Feeding a Fussy Eater

fussy eater
This is what it looks like.

A long time ago, before I had children, someone told me they cooked their family multiple meals a night to cater to their family’s individual tastes. I thought that was ridiculous. I thought: one day, when I have a family, there is no way I’ll be making an alternate dinner for anyone, because there’s no way I would raise a fussy eater.

Even later on when my son was a toddler a friend vented her frustration at the fuss of cooking two meals a night; a “kids” meal and an “adults” meal. I still thought heck no! That’s not happening in my home.

At that stage I still firmly believed I would not have a fussy eater. As though that was something I could control.

Then slowly, gradually, insidiously, my little boy became a fussy eater. Over time he would only eating things in the white to golden colour range: rice, pasta, egg whites, bread, bananas, apples (because really aside from the skin apples still fit that colour criteria)chips, chicken nuggets and all forms of dairy. More colourful exceptions included all forms of berries (and lollies if they were offered.)

This happened somewhere between 12 and 24 months. By 2 years though I stopped telling myself “it’s just a phase”. We stopped giving in and giving him sweets, chips and chicken nuggets. I reduced his breastfeeding to only feeding at night in hopes that he would eat more during the day.

He still refused to try foods outside of that list, but working with that list he could still have a fairly good diet. Apples, bananas, yoghurt, cheese and eggs aren’t bad food. I started only buying the “brown” versions of the carbs he was eating (brown rice, wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta etc). I became a ninja of sneaking veggies into him – because he didn’t eat meat, like mince, awesome tricks like grating carrots and zucchini into a pasta sauces or meat balls wasn’t going to work for him – though we did try it out! I started putting cooked frozen veggies into banana smoothies for him. I kid you not ;peas, carrots, beans, corn, even spinach if it was sufficiently pureed could disappear into a smoothie, alongside a few other fruits he wouldn’t necessarily eat in its whole form, like peaches, mangoes, watermelon and so on.

But I could hear these voices in my head; the voices of “better mothers than me”. The mums who enter conversations about how to slip vegetables into a fussy child’s diet with comments like “Oh, I wouldn’t hide vegetables in their food; I would want them to know what REAL food is supposed to look like.”

Firstly – Please tell me I was never that smug?

Secondly – Even if I know that’s really unfair it still weighed on me.

We’ve tried offering him what we’re having and not giving him anything else, but I won’t let it go on too long – I refuse to starve my child to prove a point.

Check out "his" tomatoes!
Check out “his” tomatoes!

We’ve tried positively involving him in the whole food process. We took him to Bunnings so he could choose his own vegetables to plant, he helped dig out the garden, he planted them, he watered them and he excitedly showed us every day that his tomatoes were growing bigger and redder. He picked them. He helped me wash and cut them….And then…. he still refused to eat them.

We’ve tried the good cop/bad cop routine at the dinner table.

We’ve tried a sticker reward chart.

One time we were so desperate we offered our son a bike – A WHOLE BIKE – if he would eat ONE pea. We weren’t bluffing. We were 100% committed to giving him a bike if he would eat that one single pea. But he still he couldn’t do it. He tried to swallow the pea and wound up vomiting up the rest of his dinner onto his plate.

That was the moment we realised we needed to back off. We needed to calm down. We needed to look at our son and acknowledge he was healthy, happy, growing and active. There was nothing wrong with him. He was just a fussy eater.

At the end of the day what we want for him more than anything else is a positive relationship with food.

Now it’s a little easier, he’s nearly 6, he’ll at least try new foods – usually without gagging, but he’s allowed to spit them back onto this plate if he doesn’t like them. He’ll eat mince, fish, crumbed chicken (as in real chicken pieces crumbed, not chicken nuggets) and beans now! And I don’t have to sneak the vegetables into his cakes and smoothies, he knows they’re there and he understands they’re good for him, just as long as he can’t taste or feel them he’s happy.

I still have to reassure myself that I didn’t MAKE him fussy, I didn’t do this to him. Our second child isn’t at all a fussy eater. She’s the opposite of fussy! The other day she swiped a whole capsicum off the chopping board and walked off eating it like an apple, so believe me when I say she’s not a fussy eater!

Everybody is happy!
Everybody is happy!

So, I cook alternative meals. Some nights I don’t have to. We have things like mince burritos in our weekly rotation – he’ll eat the mince and beans without the seasoning, the cheese and the wrap. Occasionally he’ll have a try of some grated carrot or corn. Or if we have a pasta or rice dish I’ll serve it up separately on his plate so he can pick at what he will eat. But often I do have to make a variation of what we’re having or a complete differently meal to ensure he’s eating well.

I’m not saying don’t try if your child is fussy with food. Absolutely try whatever you think will work, even try what you don’t think will work – as long as it’s respectful and safe – try and see what works for your child! If you think there’s underlying issues or you have any concerns seek professional advice.

Do you have a fussy eater? What have you tried to help them eat more foods? What do they eat/don’t they eat?

Rachel Stewart

Rachel is the founder of Parenting Central. She is raising two children, boy and girl, with her partner. Rachel is obsessed prams, car seats, carriers and all things baby. She has worked in the baby industry for several years, for both suppliers and also in a retail setting and has developed a passion for connecting parents with the right products to make their lives easier. When Rachel isn't playing with prams she's enjoys crocheting, drinking coffee (sometimes wine) and spending a little too much time on Facebook.

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