Some of us have children that are more than just fussy, like my son who has a food phobia. His food phobia developed because he had food allergies that were undiagnosed and eosinophilic oesophagitis. It was actually food that was making him sick and because of this a food phobia developed. You’re possibly like me and have read every book and blog around on helping beat your child’s fussy eating. The trouble is, a lot of this is written by well meaning experts who either aren’t mums yet or don’t have a fussy eater like this! I expect like me you’ve tried taking your child grocery shopping, getting them to help you cook and growing vegetables in the garden. These tips were of no help to my son so I’m going to share with you what has helped us.

  1. I think the first step is to ensure every mouthful counts. As hard as it is, try to resist letting your child fill up on junk food. Make sure everything they put in their mouth is full of nutrients and tweak the ingredients in everything you make so they are more nutritious.
  2. Use distraction at the dinner table – this does work and it’s my best tip!! I played board games at the table with my kids (yep, a pain I know!!) One mouthful of dinner was equal to one turn of the game. If one of the kids refused to have a mouthful they didn’t get a turn. Eating outside or taking the kids for a picnic can work as well. For younger children, you could read a book and turn the page each time they take a mouthful.
  3. Bribery – sometimes it works. For this to be successful you will need to find your child’s currency. They need to really want it! When my son was young I did a star chart and once it got 10 stars we would go to the toy shop to get something he wanted. Sometimes I even took him to the toy shop before we started the star chart. We put the unopened toy on the bench so he had a big incentive to eat every night (not surprisingly we had to do this for his sister too and it did get a bit expensive!) We let our son look at the toy as much as he liked but he couldn’t touch it until he had earned it. For different rewards, we varied the number of stars required but it was never more than 10 stars or it took too long for him to earn it and we risked him losing interest then.
  4. Make sure you have heaps of nutritious snacks on hand. I use a container on the bottom shelf of my fridge so the kids can easily find a snack and help themselves. I fill it with snacks I’m happy for them to have between meals like yoghurt, fruit, homemade custard and bliss balls. If you like this idea, do the same in the pantry and make it simple for the kids to find snacks like bananas, small portions of organic dried fruit and healthy homemade snacks like biscuits or slices. This makes snacks easier because you don’t have to think about what to offer when the kids ask for food. Note: I do keep an eye on my daughter when dinner is close to make sure she doesn’t fill up on snack. I don’t need to worry about her brother!
  5. Please, keep mealtime stress free. For my family I make slightly different variations of the same meal to keep the kids happy. We do this less and less with time though. I always keep this pretty simple because I don’t have a lot of spare time but I might keep a piece of chicken aside for my son and quickly grill it, and the rest of us have a chicken casserole. I cook the same vegetables for all of us.
  6. It can take a number of tries before they accept a new food, more than you think! I feel that it’s okay to put a bit of pressure on them to try a new food, but I don’t think it’s worth upsetting them if they really don’t want to (or you!) Even just a tiny taste is enough, or even a smell if they’re really worried, next time they may have more. Be persistent and kind.
  7. Food Chaining is a fabulous concept I read about in a book by Cheri Fraker and Mark Fishbein. This method means you take a food they eat and change it slightly so you just stretch the child slowly to expand what they’ll eat. One food our Occupational Therapist (OT) suggested we get our son to eat was a good quality tomato sauce. Once he happily ate that we were able to use it to put on new foods and it helped them feel familiar and safe.
  8. Add fruit and vegetables into everything you make. I think it’s still important you present them with fruit and vegetables so they understand that they need to be eaten and have the opportunity to practice.
  9. If the feeding issue is really bad, find an OT that works with children who have feeding difficulties. We found great OT who runs small groups for children with feeding issues. My son was so bad at the beginning that we needed private sessions but we moved onto small group sessions as he got more comfortable. The Occupational Therapy was hard to begin with. I took along food the OT asked me to each week and my son had to try it. The OT had an amazing gym and he got to ride the flying fox and play fun activities as a reward for trying new foods. He actually loved going. The OT did let him spit food out if he really disliked it and that reduced his anxiety a lot. She used to say to him ‘You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it’ – and I still say that to him sometimes now.
  10. Don’t be afraid to look for alternative treatments. We’ve tried so many things because we were so desperate to get our son to eat. We had some help using a psychologist who did hypnosis with our son. I talked to the psychologist before his sessions (my son couldn’t hear) and that really helped me understand what was going on in his head too. We’ve also had great improvement using homeopathic remedies.

At the end of the day, just remember that it’s your job to provide the food and it’s their job to eat it. Good luck!

You might also like to read:

How to manage fussy eating

Toddler Nutrition 101

You Might be Surprised What Your Kids are Eating!