What Do I Do If I Have a Fussy Eater?

How to recognise and help a fussy eater

Having a fussy eater can be a daunting and frustrating experience – we’ll explain what to do and how we can help you.

What is fussy eating?

There are a number of factors that define a child as being a fussy eater.

The range of foods that a fussy eater will accept to eat is restricted in number. Some children will be happy to touch a new food but not eat it, others may completely refuse to have a new food close enough to be able to smell or see it.

Fussy eaters may refuse foods based on their texture or type. They may refuse purée consistency foods or fruit, they may eat only a very small number of meats, vegetables or foods that require a lot of chewing.

Most fussy eaters will eat a different meal or modified dinner when compared to the rest of the family. Some children will tolerate eating at the same table as the rest of the family but others cannot cope with the sensory demands of sitting at the same table as everyone else in the family.

Fussy eaters typically take a long time to add new foods to their diet and may burn-out eating favourite foods that they have eaten a lot.

How can I help a fussy eater?

If you have a fussy eater, it is important to consistently provide them with opportunities to engage with a variety of foods. Offer what the rest of the family is eating each meal time, even if you know your child is not likely to have any, but do not force them to eat it. This will allow them to experience the food in a safe environment.

Encourage messy play with food! This may sound a little daunting, however most children need to experience food in a number of ways before they are willing to try it. This includes looking, smelling and touching (eg: poking, squeezing, wiping) and can be done with hands and various utensils (eg: spoons, forks, spatulas).

Provide your child with independence. If they don’t want you to feed them, give them a spoon or fork and encourage them to have a turn. Take turns, play games and show your child that you are eating it too.

Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. Take them grocery shopping, encourage them to watch you prepare meals and involve them in age-appropriate stages of preparing eg: washing vegetables, cutting, putting in dishes, stirring, plating meals and setting the table. Having family-style serving where the food is placed in the middle of the table, and each person serves themselves is very beneficial and increases the likelihood of children engaging with more foods.

If your child’s fussiness continues and they are consuming a limited amount of foods, contact a Speech Pathologist who will be able to discuss your concerns and a plan for therapy if required.

What age does fussy eating start?

Sometimes fussy eating may start when a child is progressing between different textured food as they grow older eg: moving from purée to more solid food textures.

Occasionally fussy eating may appear to commence after a child has been sick.

Fussy eating may start when a child is reaching an age where they are becoming more independent. Children begin to want to make choices in everyday life (and tell you about it), and this also appears during meal times. Your child may want to choose what they eat, feed themselves and refuse foods at times.

When does fussy eating become a problem?

Fussy eating becomes a problem when a child restricts the range of foods they will eat only a very small number of foods. When a child refuses to eat a whole nutrition group such as meat or fruit then dietary balance may be compromised and require medical attention.

If the child continues to reduce the number of foods they are eating then an appointment with your General Practitioner would be suggested and referral to a Speech Pathologist.

When eating causes ongoing meltdowns then a discussion with a General Practitioner and Speech Pathologist could be beneficial.

How do I treat a fussy eater?

A Speech Pathologist can assist you if your child has ongoing fussy eating. An assessment will be conducted and detailed feeding and eating history obtained. The Speech Pathologist will then provide you with strategies for you to use at home and discuss ongoing therapy.

Therapy involves exposing your child to a wide range of foods and encouraging them to interact with the foods using all senses. Children feel safe to engage with the food at the level they are ready, and this builds as therapy progresses.

If your child is a fussy eater and they are consuming a limited amount of foods, contact Harrison Speech Pathology who will be able to discuss your concerns and arrange an assessment and a plan for therapy if required.

Our Newcastle based pathologists are experts in treating fussy eaters. Contact us today for an appointment.

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