As parents, we want to make sure our children get the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.  It’s understandable then, that we worry if our child is a fussy eater.  We sat down with Cathy Monaghan, Senior Paediatric Dietician with the new Vhi Paediatric Clinic in Dundrum to get the lowdown on fussy eating and what parents can do to get their kids back on track.
It is not unusual for babies to go through phases of food refusal, however fussy eating generally starts in those over 2 and can continue up to any age.
Progress is not only getting your child to eat a food, but getting your child to enjoy a food. As a parent, it can be very frustrating but by using a consistent, positive and encouraging approach you will build confidence in your child and make progress together.
For whatever reason your child is having a difficulty with food, whether it is the smell, colour, taste, texture or simply a fear of something new.  Although it may be tempting, avoid pressurising your child into eating something that they don’t like.
It’s also vital to avoid talking about fussy eating negatively in front of your child. Talking about it negatively (i.e. ‘Sean is a terrible eater’) often compounds the problem. Your child has a difficulty with food just like any other difficulty. If your child was struggling with reading they are unlikely to hear you say ‘Sean is terrible at reading’. You are more likely to invest time in the problem, encourage them and tell them how proud of them you are. Fussy eating is best approached in a similar way.
Preventing fussy eating often starts at weaning. Often parents feel that babies need to eat a completely different diet than they are eating. This is not true. By weaning your baby onto foods and recipes that are not foods that you eat regularly, you are likely creating a fussy eater. If there are changes you need to make around food, start a new routine together.
Top Tips to progress:
1. Be patient. Every child is different. Approach this from where your child is, at their pace, taking their age into account. The first step may be to touch a food, the second to have a particular food on their plate and the third to actually taste it. How long you spend on each step is up to you and your child.
2. Make good food part of everyday life. Use vegetables in play – a pretend shop at home, use vegetables for painting. Here there is no pressure on your child to eat the food, you are simply using good food as part of something fun.
3. Involve your child in the shopping and preparation of food. Let them bag vegetables while shopping, unpack the shopping or help with the washing and preparation of vegetables.
4. Make ‘technology free’ family mealtimes happen. This may be breakfast or dinner – whatever works with your schedule, but do schedule it. Eating together regularly can make eating out with your children easier too.
5. Praise the slightest progress: ‘You were so good at tasting ‘ *particular food*’ let’s go to the playground! Or ‘Thanks for helping me unpack the shopping, let’s go to the park’. ‘I brought you home some stickers because you are so good at tasting new foods’.
6. Star and rewards charts do work but avoid food-related rewards (stickers, cinema, swimming…etc. are best). You must follow through with whatever you agreed.
Written by Cathy Monaghan, a Senior Paediatric Dietitian with over 10 years’ experience. She is registered with the INDI and CORU. She has two children of her own.
Brought to you by
When your child is unwell it can mean sleepless nights - Vhi health insurance customers can now access a Consultant quickly at our Vhi Paediatric Clinic in Dundrum. From GP to Consultant within 48 hours –  Be seen within two sleeps. Visit