Tips for Fussy Eaters from a Mum Who’s Been There!

tips for fussy eaters

There are lots of tips for fussy eaters if you search online.

“Add a small amount of food to the edge of their plate,” says one expert. “Try new foods 16 times,” says another.

And it’s all VERY well meaning, but sometimes family life is busy and you just don’t have the time or energy to have a baked potato spat out on the table 15 times.

So today I’m sharing the lazy (or busy) parent’s guide to raising a child who is a fussy eater.

Help! My Child’s a Fussy Eater!

Our fussy eating story kicked off when Flea was about two years old.

One day Flea was eating and said to me, “Mummy, I like mashed potato but I’m not KEEN on it.” 

“Don’t be silly,” I replied. “Eat it up.”

So Flea did eat it up. Then she threw it up. All over my table.

And that was the last time Flea ate potato.

Over the next year or two, a lot of other foods joined potato on the “not keen” list.

We’re All Allowed Preferences

The first thing I did when I realised I’d spawned a fussy eater was NOT to label her a fussy eater.

To my mind, that’s just sticking a negative label on something that’s a perfectly normal response to foods.

Sometimes we like stuff, sometimes we don’t.

Sometimes we look at things (me: octopus) and don’t want to eat them. Sometimes we plan to eat something and when it comes time for lunch, we fancy something else instead (me: salad).

dinner at bedouin camp

Flea eating dinner at a Bedouin Camp. She tasted it, and then declined to eat ANYTHING else. We still had a great night.

Why should our kids be any different?

So the first of my tips for fussy eaters is that I always talked about Flea’s eating “preferences”.

Flea prefers roast chicken to chicken nuggets. Flea prefers her pasta without a creamy sauce. Flea prefers to eat carrots than cauliflower.

Respect Your Fussy Eater’s Feelings

Another small point – we didn’t talk about “hating” food or finding it “disgusting”.

Flea learned that if she tasted a food and didn’t like it, she could simply say, “I’m not keen,” and that would be respected.

Because we never tried to force or cajole Flea into eating something that she didn’t like, she didn’t feel the need to go super-dramatic at the table. We didn’t have any “UGH, THAT’S GROSS!” moments.

It also meant no power struggles where we’d force her to eat three more bites, and she’d dig her heels in.

It was really just a case of, “Okay, you’re not keen on that. Maybe just eat your veggies and some bread, then.” 

Which brings me on to…

Don’t Ever Fight About Food

One of the best tips for fussy eaters I ever got was never to make food a fight.

Flea would be offered a choice of two things at mealtimes. If she chose something, then didn’t want it, that’s fine. I would take the meal away, and that’s it until the next meal.

If developing food preferences is a natural part of child development, so is engaging in power struggles. Make food a battle and you’re NEVER going to win.

So practice your Zen, “No problem,” face. Then take the plate away, and go on Twitter and RAGE about how they rejected your home-made risotto like the awesome parent you are.

Accept The Pasta and Pesto Years

Between the ages of about two and seven, we must have eaten pasta with pesto three times a week.

There was pasta and green pesto. Pasta and red pesto. Sometimes we’d add ham. Other times chicken. We’d often stir through frozen peas and sweetcorn. Sometimes there would be salmon or cod alongside.

But always pasta and pesto.

Hang in there, Mama.

You’re going to feel like you’re turning into a piece of pasta sometimes, but it WILL pass. If you can device enough versions of your picky eater’s favourite meals to deliver a range of nutrients then you are WINNING at life. Your child is happy, you are happy.

And one day you’ll wake up and realise it’s been six months since you last ate pesto.

Introduce Food in Fun Ways

This is one of those expert tips for fussy eaters that actually works.

Rather than cooking up unfamiliar foods at home, we took a food tour of the food market in Florence, where Flea tried truffle oil coated fresh bread. We learned to cook pizza in Italy, and Flea was convinced to try new toppings by the chef.

Travel is a great way to get kids trying new foods.

tips for fussy eaters

Flea trying her first snail in France – she loved them!

Remember Why You’re Eating Out

Managing a fussy eater at home can be so simple that you don’t notice they’re fussy.

It was no great shakes to me that Flea wouldn’t eat cabbage or spinach or kale or green beans. She would eat peas and corn and carrots and broccoli. So that’s what we bought and cooked.

When you’re eating out, it can be trickier.

To avoid drama, we had a family rule that we would always try and find one thing on the menu for Flea to eat. That might mean asking for chicken with sauce on the side. Or asking for a pasta dish without the added veggies.

If all that failed, Flea would have a basket of bread. And we’d get something later, at home.

And so we come to one of the most important tips for fussy eaters, and their parents: It’s one meal.

You’re spending time together with your children, with extended family or friends. What’s more important? Your child eating all the major food groups at this one meal? Or everyone having a nice time and enjoying spending time together around a table?

I promise. Nobody cares if your child skips the pasta and just gnaws on half a baguette. It’s one meal.

I Promise it Gets Easier.

At 13, Flea now eats out quite regularly. We even survived that 18 month period when she became vegetarian!

She can even cook for herself, sometimes. Her food preferences are honestly no big deal – as she’s grown up, they’ve mellowed. She’s old enough now to cheerfully scrape the mayo off a sandwich, or pick the mushrooms out of pasta. The biggest thing of all? Peer pressure.

There’s nothing like going to the dining hall every day with your friends to persuade you that it’s actually okay to eat a burger, or a chip once in a while (although never with ketchup, obviously). 

What are your favourite tips for fussy eaters? 

  • Like this post? Here are some others you might find useful:
  • Turn your Fussy Eater into a Food Explorer – Mum in the Madhouse
  • When Your Toddler is a Fussy Eater – Dadventurer
  • 50 Quick and Easy Snacks for Fussy Eaters – Le Coin de Mel

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About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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6 Comments

  1. 16th January 2019 / 10:02 am

    Ahh you’re so chilled about it all, that’s great to see and so is the fact that Flea is starting to come out the other side of it. Mine have always been fine with eating generally, but I could definitely learn from your tip about it just being one meal when they are determined not to eat something.
    Nat.x
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    • Sally
      Author
      18th January 2019 / 8:37 pm

      I honestly just stuck to my one core rule – never fight about food. Although sometimes it’s exasperating and worrying, I just worked around it, without the drama. And she’s still a bit fussy, but she’s survived 🙂

  2. 16th January 2019 / 11:05 pm

    I couldn’t agree more: fighting over food would only cause more issues in the long term. I was chatting to a friend this week and she’s just done a course specifically on fussy children and she was advised to offer the range of food her family would normally eat and her her son pick and choose without ever trying to bribe him to eat ‘just one mouthful.’ It’s hard but apparently it works. Thanks for the mention.

    • Sally
      Author
      18th January 2019 / 8:36 pm

      Yes, I think we just tried (in front of Flea at least) to be very, “this is what we’ve cooked, and if you eat it or don’t, it’s all good.” Not that it magically made her eat it, but at least we didn’t have a row!

  3. 19th January 2019 / 10:16 pm

    Oh, my son is so so limited in the range of food he eats plus we are all veggie. We are not easy guests! I pushed it for a long while and got nowhere at all. Now I accept it and meals are pleasant again and every so often I just try again. Mostly it doesn’t work but sometimes it does!
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    • Sally
      Author
      20th January 2019 / 7:49 pm

      While Flea was veggie it was extra difficult! But I work around it, and the lack of stress gradually provides them with the space to try new things. I hope!