Fussy Eaters: HELP­ING Your Child

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Fussy eat­ing is a phase of de­vel­op­ment that most fam­i­lies con­tend with to some ex­tent. Fussy eat­ing is very com­mon in pre-school­ers as they are en­cour­aged to eat a wider range of foods but they are also at the de­vel­op­men­tal stage where they are learn­ing about in­de­pen­dence and ex­per­i­ment­ing with say­ing ‘no’. How­ever, many ba­bies strug­gle when tran­si­tion­ing from breast or bot­tle to solids and this fussi­ness con­tin­ues through­out preschool and into the schowol years.

There has been a lot of re­search on this topic and the points be­low can serve as a guide to when to get help.


1. A child eats fewer than 15-20 dif­fer­ent foods or less.

2. A par­ent men­tions to a pro­fes­sional at 2 or more reg­u­lar health checks (12 months, 18 months, 2-year health check) that their child is hav­ing dif­fi­cul­ties with eat­ing.

3. They refuse to eat from one or more food groups.

4. They refuse one or more tex­ture type.

5. They reg­u­larly have tantrums and melt­downs at meal times. WHY ARE KID’S FUSSY EATERS? There are many rea­sons why chil­dren strug­gle with fussy or prob­lem eat­ing. These may in­clude:

1. Mouth and chew­ing move­ments which are poorly de­vel­oped.

2. Lots of chil­dren, even older chil­dren, strug­gle with co-or­di­na­tion of the mouth, teeth, tongue or their swal­low­ing skills.

3. Sen­sory pro­cess­ing. Many chil­dren phys­i­cally can’t cope with the tex­ture, taste, look or smell of food. Of­ten they also don’t have the bal­ance or pos­tural strength re­quired to be able to sit up eas­ily to eat, or they may tire quickly.

4. Psy­cho­log­i­cal stress. Some chil­dren de­velop very real stress re­sponses to be­ing with food. Watch for warn­ing signs of them be­ing dis­tressed around food or mov­ing their body away from food.


The wide ar­ray of rea­sons listed above il­lus­trate why it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand first what is the un­der­ly­ing cause of the fussy eat­ing. Once you know, then you can re­ally pin point how to help. How­ever, here are a few guide­lines to point you in the right di­rec­tion. 1. Make sure that your child is well sup­ported when they are seated to eat. Make sure that their feet are rest­ing on some­thing se­cure, whether it’s a high­chair foot rest, a box, or a stool. This is re­ally im­por­tant.

2. Make sure that their hips and knees are at 90 de­grees, with feet sit­ting on some­thing se­cure. This helps with chil­dren who have dif­fi­culty main­tain­ing good pos­ture.

3. Use a plain plate. Of­ten par­ents buy a plate with their child’s favourite cartoon. Some­times this works. But if your child is over sen­si­tive to the visual look of food then this needs to be sim­pli­fied. Choose a plain white or other coloured plate with no pat­tern or cartoon.

4. En­cour­age your child to serve them­selves. Ev­ery small in­ter­ac­tion with food is im­por­tant.

For more great tips for help­ing fussy or prob­lem eaters to eat, down­load our free tip sheet here.

Deb Hopper is an Ama­zon #1 Best Seller au­thor. She is a prac­tic­ing Oc­cu­pa­tional Ther­a­pist at Life Skills 4 Kids on the NSW Mid North Coast, Aus­tralia, she can be reached on her web­site.

De­sign Olek­san­dra Zuieva Words Deb Hopper

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