Fussy Eaters

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Fussy eaters are children who have eating difficulties at some point between their second and sixth years. They are the ones who to want to eat exactly the same food at every meal. They feel nervous about trying new dishes and feel happy and secure eating the same things which appear boring to grown ups. Some studies have revealed that children will not accept a new food until they had been exposed to it 12 to 15 times.


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Though it is normal for children to prefer only certain foods and reject everything else, parents of fussy eaters generally worry themselves into a frenzy, and tend to develop a conviction that in some way it is their fault their child is fussy. It causes untold tensions at dinner tables with efforts to force a child to eat what he doesn’t want to eat. This may cause the child to become very aggressive. Eventually, they will become aggressive at most meal times and start going green. This is nothing to be worried about - at first?? It becomes more of a problem when they are a toddler e.g going around and biting things. When they get into their teenage years is when it starts to get serious!! Teenagers regularly like to get involved in fights. This will push their aggression to the limits. When they get into their adulthood, they develop a disease and will be known by everyone as....THE INCREDIBLE HULK!!! So this can be all the faults of parents not feeding their children properly. Some specialists are of the opinion that encouraging children of three or four years of age to select on their own what they want to eat will ultimately and intuitively make them come up with a balanced diet. This can only be the case if all the foods offered to them to choose from are nutritious.

Childhood is the best time to inculcate healthy and nutritious eating habits. If parents have unhealthy eating habits, chances of their children following by example are high. However, if parents teach their children to be mindful about what they eat, they will come to see food in a positive light, rather than with dullness or deprivation.

Healthy eating habits are important to avoid problems such as obesity and eating disorders later in life

How does this affect me?

Fussy eating is a major concern as it has been found to contribute to under-nutrition. This leads to impairment in children’s growth and development and affects social and academic performance as well.

A number of studies have shown that as a result of fussy eating children develop growth complications, increased chronic illness and risk of developing eating disorders later in life.

Short-term nutritional deficiencies and life-long implications such as social and emotional problems are also found. These problems including aversion to touch, lethargy or lack of interest in playing or learning.

All about fussy food habits

Many young children go through phases after they have been weaned, when they are fussy about food. Doctors and dietitians believe that this is a normal part of growing up, if they continue to be well, active and growing normally. However, if a fussy eater does not appear to be healthy or growing normally, parents should take the child to a physician for assessment.

So how does one handle a fussy eater? Consistently forcing a child to eat what he doesn’t want to eat may create an eating disorder down the years. If forcing becomes necessary it has to be done over an extended time period by remaining tuned to how the child reacts to forcing.

Causes of fussy eating

The causes of picky eating may differ at different ages. Younger children may associate particular foods with an unpleasant event (for example, if your toddler throws up after eating an orange, she might believe that the orange made her sick).

Researchers have found a relationship between fussy eating and soft foods. Introduce lumpy foods (semi-solids bits of cooked soft vegetables or food that is mashed with a fork) as early into your child’s diet as possible. Research shows that if you expose your baby to a wide variety of lumpy or chewy foods between the ages of six and nine months, this will broaden her food appreciation and reduce the likelihood of fussy eating later on. Researchers at Bristol University in England have discovered that delaying your baby’s introduction to lumpier foods may contribute to fussy eating habits later on. They found that one in five babies who were not given lumpy foods until they were 10 months or older, were fussy eaters by the age of 15 months. In comparison, babies who were introduced to lumpy foods between the ages of six and nine months, showed fewer food fads.

Fussy eating habits that emerge a little later may have different roots. Some mothers are so anxious about their children’s diets that they communicate their anxiety to their children, who in turn, develop into fussy eaters. Other parents, especially of underweight children, turn the dinner table into a battleground. Their children are likely to retaliate by becoming very fussy about what they eat.

Fussy food habits that develop around the age of three may have yet another rationale. Some children at this age use food fads to control their parents.

However, some children may just be picky eaters because they genuinely do not enjoy too many tastes. In such cases, food fads could have a very early onset.

Fussy eating among toddlers

The term “Fussy eaters” may only be used for toddlers and children -- not for babies who are breast feeding. In babies under one, what might seem like fussy eating might just be that she is not in a comfortable position, or that her nose is blocked due to secretions or because she is being pushed against the breast. If bottle feeding, take care that the hole in the nipple is large enough, or the baby might get tired whilst feeding. In a famous experiment, Dr. Davis presented six to eight dishes of wholesome unrefined foods to three 8 to 10 month old babies who had been previously fed only breast milk. He discovered that left to their own devices, the babies chose what was generally accepted as a balanced diet, even though their appetites varied from day to day. Davis concluded that babies somehow have a natural ability to eat in a manner that does not harm their development.

The question is, if babies have an inherent ability to select a healthy diet for themselves, how do they develop into fussy eaters? Most dieticians tend to believe that fussy food habits are acquired, not innate.

Signs that a fussy eater is not growing well

If your child is fussing about food, and you observe any of the following signs, consult your doctor or healthcare provider.

  • She is not eating well and also complains of a stomach ache, indigestion or diarrhea.
  • She is teething.
  • She has a cold and a blocked nose.
  • She is tired and lacks energy.
  • Her weight is below the normal range for children her age.
  • Her skin and hair look undernourished.

Useful tips

  • Children are intelligent and respond to reasoning. Telling him the advantages of eating, and how it will help him do all the things he wants to do, can help him accept food that is healthy for him.
  • It is important to recognize that the child has a right to preferences and aversions. Forcing him to eat what he does not like is not going to make things better.

What can I do about it?

Experts feel that if you sit across the table when a child is eating you look intimidating to him. It is suggested you sit next to him. The first time a child fusses about his food is understandably a confusing time for parents. Here are some more dos and don'ts for them to follow:

  • It is important to remain calm and comforting. Always keep in mind the fact that the child will not willingly starve, and when she is hungry, she will eat.
  • Never scold her for not eating. Instead, take her plate away as soon as she says she does not want to eat.
  • Often, children develop food fads when they are too young to indicate their preferences to parents. To find out what sort of tastes your child enjoys, offer him a variety of foods and observe what he picks up. Does he seem to like sweeter tastes? Offer different fruits, carrot and beetroot. Does he seem to prefer sour flavours? Give him lemonade, citrus fruits and yogurt.
  • Never force him to eat a specific food.

Enticing a fussy eater to the dinner table

It is the role of parents to ensure that the foods from which a child can choose are nutritious and appealing. Here are some tips which may entice your fussy eater to the table –

  • The first thing to remember is that you are your child’s most immediate role model. So if you have a couple of food fads yourself, your child will also be likely to develop some. Make healthy and nutritious food choices for yourself, and eat your own food with apparent enjoyment.
  • Create a mealtime that is pleasant and relaxed. It helps if the family eats together, so your child can see and emulate older people on the table. Give your child the same food you eat. Let there be conversation on the table, so the child begins to see dinnertime as fun, instead of a punishing routine.
  • Talk about food; this may encourage a child to eat. Tell him what you like to eat, and why. Encourage him to watch food being cooked, or vegetables being peeled. Let him help in an age-appropriate manner – for instance, he could help peel boiled potatoes or shell peas.
  • If possible, give your child a choice between a couple of dishes on the table (for example, let him choose to eat either carrots or peas, and decide whether he would like a slice of bread or a baked potato).

Coping with a fussy eater

Many parents of fussy eaters declare they have tried all the tricks in the book to get their children to eat, but they have all been to no avail. If the child is developing well otherwise, all they can really do is learn to cope with their child’s food fads. Here are some tried and tested strategies.

  • Recognize the fact that your child is not as enthusiastic about dinner as you would like him to be. Serve smaller portions of food – some children get put off if they see a mountain of food on their plates.
  • Always keep in mind the fact that children do not have control over many things in their lives – but what they eat is a notable exception. Often, a fight over a food is more likely due to the child exercising his little voice than an aversion to the food itself.
  • Limit snacks and drinks between meals. Drinking too much liquid can lessen your child's appetite. If your child wants a drink, offer them after a meal so that they don't ruin the appetite.
  • Make meal times, social occasions. One strategy that sometimes works well is to invite friends of your child who have better appetites. Invite a friend of the child who has a large appetite. Or else, you could invite an adult that the child likes for dinner (like an uncle or friend). Sometimes a child will eat for someone else without any fuss.
  • If your child is playing with his food, quietly remove the plate with no fuss.
  • Do not substitute milk for meals.
  • Every few days, try making menus that the rest of the family enjoys. Include one or two items that the fussy eater avoids, she may eat the items not knowing they are there. For instance, if she does not eat carrots, grate them into cutlets or salad, or if she does not eat eggs, stir them into a hot Chinese soup. Disguise foods she is averse to -- for example, bottle gourd and cauliflower impart little extra flavour to soups.
  • Never bribe your child to finish his food. Do not promise, for instance, a juice or a slice of cake or any treat to your child, as a reward for eating the food on his plate. This sets up an unhealthy association and relationship for children with their food.
  • Look for nutritious substitutes to foods he is averse to. If he does not like veggies, give fruits instead. If he eats only bread, try topping it with peanut butter or a tomato and cheese topping to make it more nutritious.

Introducing new foods to a fussy eater

One of the biggest challenges that parents of fussy eaters face is to try and introduce new foods into their children’s diets. Remember, statistics show that around half of all toddlers refuse to eat a new food at least half of the time. Here are some tips on how to introduce new foods to your child --

  • Offer new foods when you know he is hungry and more receptive to new tastes.
  • Only offer one new food at a time – sometimes children get overwhelmed if they see too many new foods on their plates.
  • Allow him a few days to adapt to a new taste before moving on to something else.
  • Another strategy to get your fussy eater to try something new to eat, is to let him taste it from your plate – it is less overwhelming than the sight of a strange food on their own plate. When it comes to introducing new foods, a ‘taste’ can be as small as half a teaspoon!
  • Try serving a small taste of a new food with larger helpings of other foods that the child has already accepted and enjoys.
  • Try getting him interested in the new food. For instance, if you are in a farm, point out vegetables he has never eaten to show him how they grow. He might be more willing to try them if he finds them interesting.
  • Sometimes, parents find their fussy eaters are more willing to try new foods when they are on holiday, or in someone else’s house. A change of scenery may encourage them to try new tastes, and even if it does not, at least you would have had a holiday whilst trying!
  • After attempting all these strategies if you find your child is still unreceptive to new tastes, do not worry. Just keep encouraging her to try new foods. All throughout, stay positive and remember -- this is just a phase that he will soon grow out of.


  • Does it shock you to see your child putting the food in his mouth and then pulling it back out? Don’t worry! This is his way of testing out the food's texture. Once he's used to it he'll probably take his first bite.


  • Breast-fed infants cannot be termed as fussy eaters -- the term applies only to children old enough to be eating solid foods.
  • If you are a fussy eater, chances are high that your toddler will also turn out to be one.
  • Often, children use dinner table tantrums as a means of exerting some control over their own lives.
  • Less works better than more on a fussy eater's plate -- when you put tiny helpings of food on a child's plate, s/he is going to be more likely to try it. Lots of food heaped on a plate is likely to turn him/her off.

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See also


  • Fussy Eaters
  • Dealing with Fussy eaters
  • How to Feed a Fussy Eater
  • Reviews of cookbooks for fussy eaters
  • Healthy Diets for Fussy eaters