How to outsmart a fussy eater

If your toddler rebels at meal times, here’s what to do..

What is it about such foods as brussels sprouts and broccoli that is so icky to young children?

According to Aloysa Hourigan, senior nutritionist and nutrition program manager at NAQ Nutrition, it’s because breast milk and formula are quite sweet, so when weaning occurs, children’s taste buds are more attuned to sweeter flavours.

‘It takes time for the other taste buds to develop,’ she says. ‘Also, some children have hypersensory issues and find some textures difficult.’

With perseverance, this can be changed.


If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying. ‘It can take up to 10 to 20 times of trying a food before a toddler will find it acceptable,’ Aloysa says.

‘If you stop offering foods because they tried them a few times and wouldn’t eat them, then your toddler will be less likely to try them again.’

Aloysa says even if they don’t eat, encourage them to touch, smell and taste the food.

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According to Michael Grose, author of Spoonfed Generation (Penguin, $34.99), it’s important to instil a sense of independence in toddlers.

One of these self-help skills includes feeding themselves, provided the food is healthy. ‘I see a lot of parents of younger children do everything for them, but self-help skills are a start to eventually developing self-sufficiency,’ he says.

Aloysa agrees. ‘It can be helpful to encourage autonomy by allowing a child to serve themselves – putting large bowls of food in the middle of the table and encouraging children to take a little bit of everything can make them feel like they are involved in the decision-making and decrease the power games.’


Keeping food fun and getting toddlers involved in setting the table or meal prep can help improve their food acceptance, according to Aloysa.

Another way to get kids involved is to join in at a local community garden or start a vegie patch in your backyard.

‘It’s all part of familiarising children with different foods,’ Aloysa says. ‘Children can get very excited about tasting foods they have grown!’


Michael stresses you should make smart choices when you’re grocery shopping.

‘You’ve got to be smart as a parent, particularly with young kids, and be careful about what you put in the trolley,’ he says.

Be enthusiastic about eating nutritious foods. Aloysa says children learn about eating from others. She adds: ‘You can’t expect a toddler to eat green vegetables if Mum or Dad refuse to.

RELATED: Fussy eating teen who only ate chicken and chips goes blind


It’s essential for children to get adequate calcium in their diets. Dairy foods are the best source of calcium, and are also high in protein and a wide range of other vitamins and minerals. If they baulk at milk, try yoghurt, cream cheese on rice cakes or a fruit smoothie.

This article first published on New Idea.

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