A parent’s guide to managing a fussy eater

Fussy eater

By: Natasha Archary


“That smells yucky.”

“I don’t like this.”

“No. It tastes funny.”

One of the most commonly frustrating dilemmas in the parenting conundrum is what to do when your child refuses to eat almost everything. Meal times usually end with dollops of pureed baby food all over the place. Or with half the bowl of lovingly prepared spaghetti bolognaise on you.


There was a time I looked at those images in magazines and shook my head, which parent would allow such? Here I am 4 years later, disappointed with myself for being THAT parent. I’ve hung out with my fair share of equally defeated mommies and daddies to know this is a common issue.


I still haven’t quite cracked the code on this problem. But it’s not just kids that express their distaste for certain foods. Raise your hand if you know an adult who is just as picky. So, yes it would be unfair to ask where the kids get it from when there you are pulling your nose up at blue cheese.


What works for one child

As a parent, the natural inclination to compare your child to another in the same age group is a habit you should train yourself to stop. I find myself doing that sometimes and then I remember that the socio-economic, cultural and other lifestyle options are different with every family.


Perhaps you’re a single parent who doesn’t have the time to get home and cook dinner from scratch every night. Your saving grace is the pizza joint just down the road from home, where you grab the two for one deal and now the whole family has something in their tummies before bed.


Your child is therefore accustomed to eating takeout often and may not want to have the chicken stew you just placed in front of him at Sunday lunch. You’ve just disrupted his entire routine. And vice versa.


Some kids have never tasted a drive-through cheeseburger and eat a perfectly portioned plate with every food group every day. That’s great. This post isn’t about parent shaming, if it was, well then, I’d get a few disgusted looks because all my child seems to enjoy are freshly fried potato chips and cheesy mash.

Always have options

When I was a kid I ate what was put in front of me. No questions asked. If I didn’t, I’d be sent to bed on an empty tummy because my mother did not accommodate my fussiness. I’d imagine being labelled a terrible mother if I adopted the same approach today.


Believe me, my child is always given options at meal times. Not only because it helps me prepare his snacks and meals efficiently, but because it also gives your child the impression that their opinions and preferences are a priority.


They’re more likely to eat more veggies and fruit if these are readily available at home. If you need some tips on how to sneak more natural foods into their diets, our previous post covers that.


Read more: How to get your child to eat more vegetables 


Preparing meals ahead of time and freezing small portions for use later in the week or throughout the month can help take the stress out of meal times too. I find the more options I have at my disposal the easier it is to plan our weekly meals. It’s then just a matter of defrosting and reheating.

Fussy eater
Don’t lose sleep over it

So, your child eats chicken nuggets by the toy truckload, it’s not the end of his little Lego world. I promise. Kids need to get something substantial to keep them energized (although if you ask me they can do with a little less of that) and to help them grow big and strong.


My child isn’t as gullible as I was. Those tall tales my mom fed me just to finish my carrots and peas will not work on my son. He watches Peppa Pig and this means he knows that not all the animals in the world eat carrots and peas. Basically, he thinks it’s just the rabbits that have to eat their veggies.


That’s what he’s picked up from his favourite cartoons. So, my little piggy, insists that like Peppa and her family, it’s just a bowl of spaghetti or mashed potatoes for him. That and the family sized pizzas I usually pick up on my way home.


I supplement his lack of nutritional requirements with kiddies’ vitamins, a power-shake for kids that his pediatrician recommended for his low iron intake and pump him full of fruits. I’m at the point in parenting him, where if it doesn’t put him in any impending danger and as long as his medical checks point to he’s fine, I don’t lose sleep over it.


When it does become a problem

If your child is losing or picking up excessive weight as a result of their fussy eating habits, then it’s probably best to consult with your family doctor, pediatrician or qualified nutritionist. You’ll need to consider the options to ensure that your child is reaching growth milestones for his age and that the pickiness is not affecting his health in any way.


Children develop at their own pace and body build and weight is more a factor of genetics than dietary exclusions. But your pediatrician will be able to inform you if there are any concerns and the ideal weight your child should be for their age and height.


Often a child inherits the fussiness from his mother in-utero. And with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe morning sickness), all I could keep down was a mashed potato and some fries, so is it any wonder?


Try not to sweat the small stuff. Kids will acquire a taste for different foods at every stage of their development. Think of it like transitioning them from baby to solid foods, it was a gradual process right? Exactly. In the same vein, managing their fussy eating habits, will need to be a consistent and gradual process. Now, wipe that pasta sauce off your face and go make them a grilled cheese.

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