Tuesday 14 August 2012

Feeding fussy children

I suspect that every family has one or more children that is more picky about food. We certainly do.This is my personal perspective on how we have managed. I'm not a dietitian and this certainly isn't about food allergies just about managing children who won't eat a broad spectrum of foods. 

Our goals are twofold. First to have a child who eats a sufficient range of food that they won't get nutritional deficiencies and second to have a child who can cope in society, that is, they can eat with friends and other families without causing a scene or difficulty.

What hasn't worked:

 This may be controversial but treating this as a discipline issue hasn't worked. Bringing out the food again or not allowing dessert has been counter-productive. Trying this tactic on fussy eaters leads to nothing being eaten.

Producing stressful situations-when we've made a big thing of likes/dislikes nothing gets eaten.

So what has worked?

Time-most children eat a wider range with age. For us this has meant that a very narrow range has broadened, not to everything, but to a much easier and more acceptable range.

Trying different foods-not all will be liked but there will be surprise likes. 

Soup-we use soup as a means of increasing vegetable intake and also trying different vegetables. The soup is pureed so issues of new textures are removed leaving the new taste. If the soup is eaten, it is worth trying the actual vegetable.  Many vegetables seem to be eaten as soup which might otherwise be avoided.

Practicing for social situations. Negotiating meals with friends and family is difficult for children with food issues. We practice using an unlikely example. "What will you do if Mrs X offers you shark's eye soup or ham sandwiches?" 

The appropriate answer 
"I would prefer a ham sandwich."

What to do if there is no alternative
"Please may I have a very small portion."

How to be polite when you hate shark's eye soup
"Thank you for making the soup."

This doesn't get over the problem of what to do if shark's eye soup makes them gag but does put them in a more confident position to manage. We have seen covert swapping of bowls with other  family members in this type of situation.

Low stress around different/possibly disliked foods. We have found that saying "I won't give you any x because you  don't like it" sometimes leads to a child asking for a portion. 

Providing food that will be eaten-OK not really an answer but it is better to provide the one or two vegetables that are eaten each day than for the child not to have any.

Do you have a fussy eater? How do you manage?


  1. A very sensible post and an issue I can relate to as well! :) With at least one child on the autistic spectrum and another with undiagnosed sensory issues, meal times are not exactly fun! I'm often looking for ideas myself, so don't have any answers! But soups have been are daily friend for years! My 5yo son hasn't coped with eating vegetables for about 4 years now (he *will* vomit, because of texture) but pureed soup, and it's all gone! At least I know he's getting some vegetables everyday! At the moment my 22mo daughter has become very difficult - easily only eats dinner once a week. She used to eat loads of carrots, potatoes, and other veggies, but about 6 months ago she stopped eating carrots, and more recently, potatoes aren't eaten either. I thought *at least* she'd have pasta, but that's being left too! Sometimes I wonder *what* will she eat (esp as she's not keen on much milk either!) and she hardly eats any breakfast, as hates most cereals, won't eat eggs, never (ever!) would take porridge! And even the soup is not being eaten! Soooo yeah, I'd be glad for some tips myself! :-)

  2. Rachel, that does sound complex. They do seem to get more difficult with food around the 2 year mark.
    Soup is great. Have you tried fruit smoothies with your son? They haven't worked with our difficult eater but in theory should be useful for children where texture is an issue.

  3. Thank you for this Sarah. There was a time when Micah was very underweight and woudn't eat much, and mealtimes were very stressful. They often became a battle and like you say it didn't help. Interestingly Myron used to like all foods, his favourites being things like curly kale and then he became more fussy as he got older. I have never had the time or energy to produce different foods for different tastes, and so always put the same things on all our plates regardless of whether the children will like it. Over time I have mellowed and got less stressed, insisting that they try a small amount of whatever it is they don't like. I don't know if it's this tactic which has worked or just that they are growing up but there are now not many foods they don't like. (for which I am thankful!) I have never threatened to bring out dinner again or withold pudding but I do insist they eat enough so they won't be hungry later, I think we know our children well enough to know when they are really full or just being fussy! I find it interesting what you say about scenarios eating at other people's houses, I may try that!! Thank you again! :) Mary x

  4. I think I tried fruit smoothies with Benjamin a few years ago (when he was more difficult with foods) and they weren't tolerated. but I ought to try them again now, as he's more willing to at least taste new things. He likes the flavour of fruits and will lick them - so maybe nicely pureed like that would be enjoyable! Thanks for the tip! :) So far Deborah likes a number of fruits, so at least that's something she'll eat whole - at the moment anyway! :)

  5. Mary, I'm sure you are right that things get better with time. I know what you mean about not having time or energy to cook different things although I've realised that this means that we rarely eat certain things that other family members quite like. Difficult balance!