How to Deal With a Fussy Eater

Worried about a four, five or six year old's eating habits? Here are some tips to help!


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    Know who has the problem, you or the child. Ask your child's doctor. Be honest about what child eats. If your child's doctor is worried, it is your child's problem as well as yours.
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    By the time a child is four, s/he should be eating a healthy balanced diet although may reject some foods. If left alone, not offered lots of sweets or starches, will over time eat what he or she needs.
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    Recognize it may be more of a will struggle problem than an eating problem. Nagging or worrying about what a child eats often feels like over control to the child and no one likes over control. Moreover, if the child makes the parent give in and give the food the child wants, s/he is rewarded by feeling powerful. Not always bad, but not always good.
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    Help the child develop a new attitude toward food.
    • For a month do nothing more than labeling healthy foods as fuel for the body whether liked or not, whether comforting or not. Don't suggest or force good foods, just label whatever the child is eating as fuel food or not.
    • After a month, begin slowly restricting child's favorite foods and limiting eating to specified times. Make eating times long enough apart that the child will feel hungry. Don't drastically change diet at this point. Keep labeling.
    • After another month pick child's most favored healthy food and have that always on the menu. Praise for eating fuel food.
    • If child has melt downs from not eating, comment that they're not getting enough fuel food and offer the healthiest favored food or better yet, ask child when s/he has calmed down what wants for fuel.
    • After another month, figure out ways to combine favorite foods with less liked foods. Child likes peanut butter, doesn't like fruit so much. Try peanut butter and sweetened applesauce sandwiches first, then the same with unsweetened applesauce then peanut butter and banana's or soften apple sliced sandwiches next. The child loves chocolate milk? Gradually reduce the amount of chocolate you use to make his or her chocolate milk.
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    Keep expectations for change slow. It took years to develop this type of problem and will take time to end it. Your job is to get across the idea that eating is for fuel with an occasional reward of the foods we love that comfort.


  • If making a healthy food (example apples) more appealing to a child at first, in whatever way (example peanut butter) is necessary, then go ahead. Just make sure the child won't expect this every time.
  • Dump any guilt or shame you feel about creating the problem. Parents are human and our society expects far too much and offers little help.
  • You need a matter of fact tone of voice when discussing what your child eats, your anxiety fuels both types of feeding problems.
  • Stop saying "Try just a bite, you'll like it." Usually teaches the child that trying isn't a good idea.
  • Practice a daily emotional fitness program to help you deal with your emotions related to this.
  • Any others involved in the child's life need to buy in to this or the plan will not work as well. If cannot get buy in, simply recognize that different people behave differently and you are interested in your child learning how to eat for fuel and not in forcing foods.
  • If there is a food a child doesn't like but is needed in a healthy diet, then make it interesting or hidden, like mixing pureed veggies into a sauce your child likes.


  • Always stay in touch with your doctor and bring a week's log of what your child has eaten to each appointment.

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Categories: Diet & Lifestyle | Nutrition and Lifestyle Eating