Parents Corner

Got a fussy eater?


The very best way to deal with eating difficulties is not to stress about it. Look at the positive. Rather than focusing on what he doesn’t eat, focus on what he does eat, and expand his range and variety ever so slowly. Look upon it in the spirit of adventure rather than with fear and dread. The mirror neurons in your child’s brain will pick up on your attitude and feelings. If you have anxiety about mealtimes, your child will smell the fear and respond accordingly. If he gets a lot of attention for his fussy eating, he will do more of it.

One strategy is the back-up meal (Dr Thomas Phelan). You give your child tiny portions of the family meal. A teaspoon of everything, separated from each other on a small plate. The child must try what was on the plate. He can eat what he wants and leave what he wants, but he must give it a bit of a go. If he likes some of it, he can have more. Give descriptive praise for what he tries and eats.

When he has had enough of that meal, if he is still hungry, he can ask for his back-up meal. The criteria for the back-up meal is that it is quick and simple to prepare, and somewhat nutritious. It could be as simple as a peanut butter sandwich or tinned spaghetti on toast. You don’t give descriptive praise if the child eats the back-up meal.

This strategy can take a long while. Most of parenting is slow and consistent. When I tell people about the above strategy, they are concerned about the child “winning”. I advise parents to never start a war with their child over food – you will not win. The back-up meal is a positive way to increase your child’s tolerance for different tastes.

If you would like more information, look up the Fussy Eating Resources on the Cancer Council NSW website. Also look up Dr Ellyn Satter’s ‘division of responsibility’ model.


Article Written + Submitted by

Narelle Smith | Family Practitioner




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