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 they don’t eat, focus on what they do eat, and expand their 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 they get a lot of attention for their fussy eating, they will do more of it. Fussy eaters can be extremely determined and persistent (some might say ‘stubborn’).

There is a strategy recommended by Dr Thomas Phelan – the back-up meal. You give your child tiny proportions of the family meal. A teaspoon of everything, separated from each other on a small plate. The only stipulation is that they have to try what is on the plate. They can eat what they want to and leave what they want to but they have to give it a bit of a go. If they like some of it they can have more. You give your child lots of descriptive praise for what they try and eat.

The child at any time is able to ask for their 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. The back-up meal is always the same. You pay no attention whatsoever to your child eating their back-up meal.

Slowly but surely your child will eat more of the main meal and less of the back-up meal. This can take time – months or years. Just be consistent. You can be more persistent than your child, right?

When I tell people the above story, they are concerned about the child “winning”.

Is parenting a battle or a race? Are our children our enemies or adversaries? What is the most positive way to approach the situation? It’s better to catch flies with honey than with vinegar. Force, yelling, and manipulation will only work for a short time and the effects on your child are not that great. Never start a war with your child over food – you will not win.

Article Written + Submitted by

Narelle Smith | Family Practitioner




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