"Being a mum of a fussy eater is soul-destroying."

Stop blaming yourself.

I know how soul-destroying it is to have a fussy eater. Not just a kid who knocks back the occasional green vegetable, but a truly fussy eater. As a parent, your number one job is to make sure your child is properly nourished. And if you feel you’re not doing that, the weight of guilt is crushing.

You look at your friends’ kids who seem to eat everything put in front of them, and you ask yourself why your kid doesn’t do the same.

There’s no shortage of self-styled experts giving advice, but most of them seem to repeat the same suggestion: “Add vegetables to your child’s pasta sauce.” Which would be great, if your child actually ate pasta with sauce.

Information leaflets and books will tell you that if you just put healthy food down in front of your child, they’ll eat it. What, they think you HAVEN’T TRIED THAT?

Okay. Deep breath.

There are all sorts of reasons why kids are fussy eaters. For starters, humans are biologically programmed to become wary of new foods when they’re toddlers. So when they wander out of the cave, they don’t immediately eat the poisonous berries on the bush outside. As well, about a quarter of kids are what’s known as “supertasters”. This means that certain vegetables like broccoli and brussels sprouts do taste genuinely horrible to them. On top of that, a dislike for certain foods can be genetic. A British study of identical and fraternal twins found that 78 per cent of picky eating was inherited.

So stop blaming yourself.

Not happy.

No matter how terrible your child's diet may seem, there are other kids out there living on the same limited foods. Brisbane dietitian and mum-of-two Kate Di Prima has seen it all. She's even found herself in the firing line when kids have worked out that she's the person convincing their parents to change their diet.


"I’ve been hit by Matchbox cars," she remembers. "They scream and rant and rave."

Di Prima, the co-author of More Peas Please: Solutions For Feeding Fussy Eaters, says she's realised there isn't a "one size fits all" approach to fussy eating. "You can’t just say, if a child’s fussy or picky, 'Make them sit at the table for an hour, turn all the lights out, just walk away and they’ll work it out.'"

She tries to fill any nutritional deficiencies in a child's diet while working on their particular style of fussy eating. No child is beyond help.

"The last thing I ever do is point my finger and say it’s Mum or Dad’s fault," she adds. "It might be a situation that they’ve got themselves into, but it’s up to me, with them, as a team, to get them out of that."

Here's a news report on treating picky eaters. Post continues after the video.

These are some of the most common types of fussy eating Di Prima deals with:

"My child refuses to try anything new."

Some children genuinely fear new foods, so you have to go through a desensitising process. You start by putting a tiny bit of a new food on their plate, along with familiar foods, and doing it over and over and over. "Research show us that parents give up after two or three times," says Di Prima. To actually get them to try eating a pea can be a six-step process, from having it on their plate to biting down on it, and it could take a week.

"My child doesn't eat any vegetables."


Cannellini beans and white butter beans are good for kids who only want to eat white, soft foods. You can mash up the beans, add them to cream cheese and put them on sandwiches. "At least they get the fibre," Di Prima says. If kids are getting constipated, you can also try a fibre supplement.

"My child is a milkaholic."

Di Prima sees kids who are having dairy products all day - not just milk but also smoothies and yoghurt. "They fill up very quickly and they don’t feel like anything else." She advises cutting right back on the dairy products - maybe serving milk in a shot glass - so kids have room in their stomach for other food.

"My child only eats white food."

These kids are missing out on fibre and iron, so Di Prima suggests using baby rice cereal, in a toddler formula, instead of milk when making food like pancakes. "That adds iron and other nutrients."

"My child only eats Vegemite sandwiches."

Di Prima suggests trying new foods in the afternoon rather than in the evening, when your child is more likely to be tired. Vegemite can be used as a bridging flavour - say, on a potato strip. She says kids will often try new foods at childcare or at other people's places, so parents have to be strong at home. "You've got to break that cycle and it’s a very, very hard cycle to break."

Have you got any tips for dealing with a fussy eater?

Want more? Try:

6 food swaps that your kids won't even realise are healthy.

10 first foods your baby will love.