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Dealing with Fussy Eaters: The step-by-step guide to food acceptance

Summary. Struggling with fussy eaters? Learn how to improve your child's experience with food and create positive attitudes towards healthy eating. In this digest, we give you 9 steps of how to improve meal times that we have gathered from talking to parents and NHS expert food for sensitive children workshops.

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Fussy eating can be one of the most frustrating experiences a parent and their child go through. It can create negative feelings, moods, and impact your child’s attitude to food, one of the necessities to a healthy growth, which is what we all want for our children.

This is why it is important to understand how to deal with fussing eating and improve on your child’s experience with food as early as possible in their life. The process can be daunting and long. With my toddler, it felt like more often than desired, we made few steps progress, and regress few more. Those days where we went back few steps felt like a lapse, and it was very easy to want to give up and call it quits! But persistence and patience are critical to enhancing any habits with toddlers, and eating habits are no exception. So, if you feel like you are going back and forth in your progress with your child, don’t give up yet, keep following the 9 steps program below, and you will see improvements. There are further tips in this article on how to deal with the stress of feeding times and overcome the tantrums and the tears – from both you and your child 😉

Before you start the 9 steps program to try new food with your child, try to recall what was your child’s reaction the last time you introduced this food to them. If your child has rejected this food recently, then please wait at least 3 days before trying the below.


Step 1

Choose the new food: This can be something very new as in your child has not seen this food at all before or can be something similar to something they like for example, you are trying pasta with new type of sauce.

Put a tiny amount (size of fingernail or less) of the new food on to your child’s plate. 

Remember: Put the new food in the same place, on the same side of the plate each time, ensuring it does not touch accepted foods, so your child does not stop eating or get disgusted of their already accepted food. If putting the new food on the same plate as accepted foods causes any upset, put on a separate plate at the side. 


Step 2

Encourage your child to smell the new food on the plate. Get involved by smelling the food too – your child may copy you! 


Step 3

Encourage your child to pick up the new food with a fork or spoon. Again, your child will not usually try to eat the food at this stage, but rather just play with it, pick it up with the utensil and looking at it, or poking it with the utensil.


Step 4

Encourage your child to touch the new food with their fingers. If your child is still ok with the process, and has followed through to this step, then they can start familiarising themselves with the texture and the touch of the new food. For over sensitive or under sensitive children like mine, this would be a milestone, as texture is sometimes the reason why they might find some foods repulsive.


Step 5

Then encourage your child to pick up the new food with their fingers. To do this, you can do some pretend play, for example pick up the food and pretend its flying plane, or a barking dog. Your child might find this amusing and would copy you by picking up the food with their fingers and pretend play with it as well. You will need to ensure your child is still sitting for their meal, so they don’t confuse the food for an actual toy.


Step 6 

Encourage your child to touch the food to their face, then to their lips (‘kiss the food’) and then to their tongue. Do this at a rate that suits your child – some children may do all steps at one mealtime; others will take several attempts.  Fussy eaters can be unpredictable, success one time or a failure does not guarantee you have overcome the problem for good. Consistency is key here.


Step 7

Encourage your child to lick the new food then put in their mouth (they can remove without chewing and swallowing – this step allows them to experience the taste and feel of the food in their mouth). My child often gets to this stage before calling it quits for the day. They would put the food to on their lips, their teeth or tongue, then into their mouth (giving me all the hope), then they would spit it out, but I can see that they are really trying to get themselves to lick the food but they are not 100% convinced it is safe yet. This is ok. Remember, the average it takes to get new food introduced is 30 times! So, keep up the good work.


Step 8

Encourage your child to bite, chew and then swallow a very small amount of the food. This is so your child can actually taste the food and process it safely, so they don’t get a month full, then decide it is not a safe food yet and vomit.


Step 9

Finally – gradually increase the amount of food eaten but to no more than a ‘normal’ portion. The food then becomes an accepted food for your child. 

Once you get here, congratulations! you have just increased tour child’s menu and options to a healthier lifestyle. And you can start the process all over again with another new food! 

Remember, if one day after your child has accepted the food, they start rejecting it again, that’s ok. Take it easier and start again. Don’t get discouraged, this is just a part of the process. There are few common traps that are very easy to fall into with fussy eaters, read about them in this article. 

If you found this article useful, why not check out more article on the Parenting category.

Disclaimer: The content of all our articles is protected by the Terms & Conditions policy. For license of content, please reach out to us directly, our information are on the contact us page.

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