Fussy Eaters

Fussy eaters, babies, toddlers even older kids can have parents tearing their hair out!

Unfortunately, my family were fussy eating divas! I remember as a young child during the war being cajoled to eat by being asked to remember the starving children in Europe. In my logical five-year-old mind I couldn't understand why we didn't just send the food to them, since I didn't want it.

My own three children were fussy eaters too, and lived on fish sticks and chocolate milk for what seemed like years.My grandson appears to be carrying on the tradition by eating only chicken strips and fries. (Actually he had a breakthrough the other day and he will now eat hamburgers, but ONLY if they are made by his Dad, on the barbecue.) The one exception is my granddaughter who eats very well, even though her Mom was the fussiest of my children!

Since I am obviously not qualified to give advice on eating problems, I offer the following information from our local public health office:

The Feeding Relationship

A relationship between parents, their children and food.

  • Did you ever have to sit at the table until you "cleaned" all the food off your plate?
  • Did you ever feel so full that you just couldn't eat another bite but ate it anyway just to please your parents and get away from the table?
  • Were you ever forced to eat food you didn't like?

Practicing the "feeding relationship" will help you and your family avoid these situations.

Defining Roles Between Parent and Child

When children are very young (breast milk or infant formula)

  • The parent decides what the child will be fed.
  • The child decides when, how much and how fast they feed ("feeding on demand").

When children are older (eating solid foods)

  • The parent offers a choice of healthy foods at regular meals and snacks.
  • The child decides whether to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.

When children are allowed to eat according to their hunger, they learn to trust their bodies and will eat as much as their bodies need.

Understanding Your Child's Hunger

  • Children are born knowing when and how much they need to eat in order to grow.
  • Healthy children will not starve themselves.
  • If parents follow the feeding relationship, children grow up feeling good about eating and liking many different foods.
  • Children should be offered scheduled meals and snacks at regular times throughout the day as their small stomachs fill and empty quickly.
  • Learn and respond to signs that your child is hungry or full. For infants, signs that they are full may include closing the mouth, pushing food away, losing interest in eating and/or playing with the food on their plate.

The ABCs of Mealtime

  • Children who develop good feelings about food and eating will feel good about themselves and grow the way nature intended them to.
  • Offer new foods with old favourites and eat them yourself
  • Set a good example - children learn eating habits by watching their parents.
  • It can take 15-20 times offering a new food before your child will eat it.
  • If you don't pressure your child to eat new foods they will learn to accept them over time.
  • Avoid making separate meals or "short order cooking" when your child does not like what you are serving.
  • Expect children to be messy when they are learning to eat. A sheet or towel under the chair will make clean-up easier.
  • Let children eat as little or as much as they want - offer child- sized portions and let your child ask for more.
  • Avoid power struggles over food choices by remembering that you are in charge of what foods you buy. Food companies use television commercials to sway children to want foods that are high in sugar, fat and caffeine.
  • Keep a supply of healthy foods from each of the four food groups from
  • Canada'sFood Guide to Healthy Eating (or your own country's food guide) on hand.
  • All children will have food "jags" - wanting a peanut butter sandwich every day, eating toast only if it is cut in triangles, eating only orange foods etc. If you don't react to these food "jags" they will pass.
  • Don't use food as a reward. A hug, extra playtime, stickers and other play items are great alternatives.


For more information on the feeding relationship and parenting refer to these books by Ellyn Satter:

Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense

How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much

Note: The information above is produced by Vancouver Island Health Authority Prevention Services and used with permission.

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