By Registered Health Visitor – Julia Headland

This month I thought I would do my blog on fussy eaters. As a mother of a fussy eater myself, I totally understand the frustration but also the worry that you may be feeling thinking that your child isn’t going to get the adequate amount of nutrition needed for them to grow and thrive.

There are some children who appear to be fussy right in the early days however most fussy eaters start to emerge in their 2nd year and it can come as quite a shock to us parents, especially as they may start to reject certain foods that they had always enjoyed such as yogurt or cheese. The good news is that as challenging and frustrating as this stage can be, it is usually just a phase and it will resolve itself in time. As long as your child maintains a healthy weight and appears to be healthy in themselves, there is little need to worry. If you are concerned about their weight or general wellbeing, I would advise that you contact your health visitor (or contact me at the nursery) or see your GP.

There are different types of fussy eaters

  • Excessive drinkers/snackers
  • Problem with poor appetite
  • Problem with range of food
  • Problem with texture of food

Some of the above could be down to a sensory feeding problem.

Features of sensory based feeding difficulty.

  • lack of interest in food
  • rarely appearing hungry
  • rarely asking for food
  • gagging or vomiting at the sight or smell of food
  • eating very small amounts
  • spitting out food
  • crying/screaming when fed
  • eating a very restricted range of food textures, for example, no lumps.

Causes of sensory-based feeding disorders

Usually it is not caused by one single factor but a combination of the following:

  • Vomiting or gastro-oesophageal reflux in infancy
  • Prematurity
  • Complex medical problems in early life requiring invasive procedures
  • Early feeding difficulties eg; problems latching on, falling asleep during feeding, small frequent feeds.
  • choking episode during weaning
  • respiratory problems around weaning
  • Eczema/food allergies
  • Prolonged use of nasogastric tube
  • Late introduction of solid foods
  • Developmental difficulties
  • general dislike of new things or change
  • a reactive or highly emotional personality

So, what can you do to help with fussy eaters?

Firstly, consistency is key! For this, all adults looking after the child be it parents, grandparents or nursery staff should agree a plan of action and give a consistent message to the child.

Other measures to help include;

  • aim for a structured meal /snack plan in the day with set times.
  • limit milk and drinks outside of those times.
  • offer small meals on a large plate, they can have seconds if they want
  • decide who is in charge of the meal!
  • begin at the point the child can achieve
  • take very small steps
  • notice child’s cues
  • praise and reward very small positive changes.
  • ignore non-eating/ disruption
  • reward compliance

If the issue is a problem with texture, here are a few tips to help;

  • very gradually thick up pureed foods by reducing the liquid content
  • separate mixes of purees so vegetables / meat can be recognised
  • encourage handling / licking food off fingers
  • offer soft solids, eg, well-cooked carrots

Other mealtime management ideas

Obviously, you can’t force your little fussy eater to eat what’s in front of them if they really don’t want to eat it but here are a few tips on how to encourage them to eat.

  • Have set mealtimes. Children like routine and having a set mealtime each day may encourage positive behaviour at the mealtime. It is also advisable to not to have the tv on so they can concentrate on eating. Also limit the mealtime, most toddlers will eat what they want within 30 minutes of a meal time and so it will be pointless waiting for an hour to see if they will eat their dinner.
  • Give small portions. There has been much research to suggest that many
  • of us are giving our children portions that are too big. I think this may have to do with a parent’s instinct of making sure that their children have enough food however research has shown that it can cause your child to be overwhelmed by the portion size and this may in turn prevent them from eating it.
  • Whenever time permits, try and eat as a family all together. Your child will be learning from parents and siblings as children copy behaviour. It also allows you to give him lots of positive praise when he is eating!
  • Try not to offer alternatives to the meal. This is tricky because I think as parents we get terrified that if our toddlers don’t eat what’s in front of them, they are going to starve! Obviously, this isn’t the case but we worry and as a result may offer something else that we know will be an instant hit with them! What you could do is make sure you give them something they like in the meal to begin with alongside something that he maybe hasn’t tried or is as keen on.
  • If you are worried about your child lacking in essential nutrients, I would advise that you sneak lots of vegetables into the food that he does like. For example, if he likes spaghetti bolognaise, you could add a whole array of vegetables in this dish, probably completely unnoticed! You could also try giving them a fruit or yogurt smoothie.
  • Have a think about what they are eating/drinking during the day. Are they drinking too much milk or is their milk time too close to meal times? Are they having a snack or is it too close to meal times? Often, you may be able to adjust your toddler’s food timetable so other things they are eating or drinking won’t interfere with their main meals
  • Clear, consistent reward schemes such a star/reward chart or an ‘Eat up’ scrapbook/chart.

If you are still worried, please feel free to come and chat with me.  Remember too that is can take over 10 times of trying a new food for that little person to like it!


For those people I have not yet met, my name is Julia Headland and I am a registered health visitor and registered general nurse with a degree in public health and over 20 years of experience.  I am very pleased to work alongside the Norfolk House Nursery team.

You can arrange to meet me for confidential advice or guidance about your child’s health or development; during the pandemic these consultations are being conducted by Zoom or telephone.

My consultations are free of charge and they are confidential.

You can book an appointment with me via the Norfolk House Nursery staff.

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