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5 ways to help your fussy eater

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Emma Shafqat
Paediatric dietitian

Do you find meal times a constant struggle? Are you starting to dread them? And do you even, in a desperate attempt to get your child to eat something nutritious, resort to begging, bribing or bellowing for just one more mouthful? Yeah, got you. The first thing is to say that it’s okay, you’re really not alone if that sounds all too familiar. I’ve been there too with my own daughter and see it again and again from patients at my clinic.

It’s completely normal to worry about whether your child is getting enough food plus the right vitamins and minerals for growth. But try not to focus on what your child eats in a single day, looking instead at what they eat over a week.

If you’re concerned that your child’s eating habits are becoming a serious problem, please contact your health professional or GP. A fussy eater should generally be able to maintain weight for growth and eat a sufficient variety and volume of foods to meet nutritional requirements. This does not, however, take away from the stress of meal times and the ‘parent guilt’ you feel as you desperately wish for them to eat a healthy meal.

With that said, here are five fun, easy, and practical ways to get your fussy eater moving in the right direction.

1. Edible adventures

Try switching up your normal routine and putting food in a different context. This could be:

- Going to a farmers’ market

- Doing a blindfolded food challenge and taste test

- Playing shop by weighing and pricing different foods

- Eating with chopsticks just for fun

- Choosing a theme night and trying a new cuisine

2. Discover new foods

It can take up to 30 attempts to like a new food. Try to expose your child to a new food each day. You can make this into a game. Ask them to help with baking and get messy! Or perhaps cut up some fruit, such as a banana, and let them feed it to you.

3. Explore a rainbow of food colours

Ask your child to pick their favourite colour and visit a supermarket. Encourage them to choose a new food to try in that colour. It can be sweet or savoury. But remember, there’s no pressure for them to eat that new food on day one. Initially, it’s more about getting them used to the smell, texture, and appearance.

4. Imaginative messy play

Messy play is fantastic for introducing food in a non-pressured environment. Your child could play with cars in dry pasta and rice, make mountains with flour, or set up a teddy bears’ picnic and add fruit to the teddies’ plates.

5. Divider plates and funky cutters

It’s worth getting some fun divider plates as children tend to like the idea of keeping new foods separate from their tried and tested favourites! There are also some great sandwich and vegetable cutters available online. These make food more fun and interesting for kids.

Thankfully, there are lots of positive steps you can take to achieve happy, healthy meal times, and free your family from the stress of fussy eating. Good luck!