Creative Child

Positive Mealtime Solutions for Fussy Eaters

by Rebecca Eanes

Fussy eaters make mealtimes quite the challenge. We all want to establish healthy eating habits in our children and sit down to enjoy a nice meal. It’s understandably easy to become frustrated when they demand snacks constantly, refuse to sit in a high chair, throw their food, or simply won’t eat what we offer.

The truth is, we cannot force children to eat their vegetables or the meals we spend time preparing. We can’t expect toddlers to sit for long meals and have an engaging conversation with us while we eat peacefully together for 45 minutes. However, there are positive solutions for fussy eaters and mealtime troubles.

Solution #1: Set Flexible Boundaries and Remain Calm

It’s important to set boundaries with your fussy eater at mealtimes, but it’s also important to take your child’s development into consideration and to be flexible where you can afford to be. While it’s reasonable to want to create a “family meals at the table” tradition, expecting babies and toddlers to sit for extended periods is unreasonable. So start the meal at the table with the understanding that you are working toward developing a good habit that may take a couple of years to be entirely successful. Little steps are worth celebrating.

When your fussy eater refuses to eat something, throws food, or otherwise does something undesirable at mealtimes, try your best to remain calm and not make a big deal of it. Big reactions can elicit more of the same behavior. A calm, controlled, polite demeanor is best. Hard to master, of course, but best.

Solution #2: Compassionate Meal Planning

In our efforts to encourage healthy eating, we might fill our children’s plates with broccoli and salmon so they get those Omega 3’s and phyto-nutrients. Our intentions are good, but not serving anything familiar or good to them is unfair to our little ones. Remember a time when you were hospitalized and you just had to hope something decent came on the dinner plate? That’s probably what it’s like to be a toddler every day. Plan healthy meals that include something you know your fussy eater will enjoy, even if you hold it back and ask them to try the salmon first.

Solution #3: Don’t Punish or Reward with Food

Threatening to make a fussy eater go to bed without dinner or offering candy as a reward sets up more problems than it solves. If you say to a child, “You can only have dessert if you eat your vegetables,” then you’re implying that the vegetables are a hurdle they must get past in order to get to the good stuff. When you reward with sweets or junk, you make it seem extra good. If dessert is on the menu, it’s on the menu with no strings attached.

Solution #4: Set It Aside for Later

So your child didn’t like much of dinner and ate very little. So many articles I’ve read warn against being a “short-order cook” and every parent has the right to choose if that’s important to them. For me, it wasn’t a big deal to throw something else together for my fussy eaters. If you prefer not to do that, simply put their plate in the fridge for later, and when they say they’re starving, offer it back to them. If they still don’t like it and you know they are truly hungry, see solution #2 and then offer a healthy but filling snack such as yogurt and granola, whole grain cereal, or cheese and fruit kabobs.

More mealtime tips for fussy eaters on the next page... 

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