The softly softly approach to fussy eating

If you don’t know me by now let me tell you that I can’t stand to have children crying. I hate the whole opinion that children are trying to manipulate and need to learn lessons or you’re making more work for yourself later on. If you think children should sit at the dinner table and eat every mouthful – and no dessert otherwise, reheating it for breakfast – well then you’ve come to the wrong blog post.


First I think you need to decide if there’s a problem, and if so what it is.

  • Is it your child doesn’t eat enough?
  • Of the right foods?
  • At the right times?
  • At the table?

WHO has the problem?

  • Is it you? Are you worried your child wont put on enough weight? Lose all their teeth? Become obese?
  • Is it well meaning friends and relatives?
  • Is it health professionals?
  • Or is it the child?
Figuring out the who and the what will play in an important part in knowing how to solve it.
Is it a justified problem?
Or is it just another one of those things we feel guilty about as parents – like breast/bottle feeding choices & work/stay at home choices?


What I’ve found in my experience of raising 4 boys is that around aged 2-3 years old suddenly my well-eaten food machine becomes this fussy individual who largely wants junk but even that isn’t guaranteed to be eaten.

The first thing I remind myself is that all my boys have been through this, it’s their way of learning about the self. To exerting some control over their world and their bodies.

It WILL pass.


We get them involved in food preparation.

We find ways around things – currently youngest was not eating at all at lunchtimes. Then we discovered Nutella – which as the name suggests has nuts in it. But as youngest just sees it as chocolate we put it on his sandwiches and toast and he ate it. For me I was happy because he was now eating bread. And he still feels he’s won because he’s getting “chocolate sandwiches” for lunch. What I think is even more impressive is that the 4 year old still would prefer to have ham or cheese on his and never asks to have the same as his little brother.

I do not withdraw food. I know some parents find it hard but you need to try and ignore the fussy behaviours. Do not use food as a reward/punishment (yes I’m a hypocrite and did my toilet training by dishing out sweets, but I’m trying to say what in theory I think you should aim to do).

Meals are eaten at the table.


I present 3 regular meals – breakfast lunch and dinner – at roughly the same times every day. It doesn’t matter if they are eaten or not. I do do things to encourage the process of eating. Above is a proud moment because, although he is playing with his food, he has remained at the table with us for the whole meal.

Be positive with even the small steps.

I’m known to try and encourage them just to touch the food. Feel the textures.

To lick the food – just one lick.

Then encourage maybe eating one thing you know they like – eg all your carrots.

I offer plenty of healthy snacks – mainly fruit throughout the day. Starting with a small choice (letting him decide what he wants) and gradually building on it.

Here is a great post by Cats Yellow Days – 9 steps to solve fussy eaters

16 thoughts on “The softly softly approach to fussy eating”

  1. Great post!
    I used to be a fussy eater and had to sit at the table for hours until I ate it. I still never ate it. Now I have the worst diet possible.
    Stick at what works for you!

  2. Great post! Thank you for sharing! I just wrote a post about food as well, which is how I stumbled upon yours.

    … following your blog …

    – Oh God, My Wife Is German.

  3. Fab post. Thanks for the link. I completely agree that the fussy phase is inevitable and it’s much more to do with their sense of self and boundary testing than whatever food they are claiming not to like today. Let’s hope we can stay calm until it passes. x

  4. Wonderful post! I agree with your approach. I think it is important to let food and mealtimes to become a power struggle.

  5. What a great post. We have 17mth olds who are more fussy than their sister ever was… but it’s only through patience that we’re getting anywhere…. thank you for sharing your experience, it’s very reassuring.

  6. I do recall the 2-3 years of age finicky stage with my boys, but it didn’t last long and they usually ate what I fixed for meals with no complaint. Not sure about these new methods as my kids are now in their 20s and 30s, but I suppose whatever works to get them to eat and not create a spoiled child is good.

  7. Fantastic post! I’ve been working with families for years to help them transform their picky eaters into food-confident kids. What you describe here is very, very similar to the technique that I teach.
    Kristen Yarker, MSc, Dietitian

  8. I can see with many parents how fussy eating can drive them mad, and I have seen through my own personal experience that once you relax so does the child. I have been quite lucky to date and I really encourage like you do, feeling, tasting and licking. They know it is ok to spit it out if they don’t like it (as long as it is in the toilet, bin or napkin) and that gives them confidence. I try to an adopt a take it, or leave it approach. This is what is on offer, I will encourage you to eat it, but not force you. There are no alternatives. I think children realise quickly that food is the one place they can assert their authority and independence. Let them have it for a bit, they will not starve and soon realise it might be better just to check they don’t like it. Obviously you learn quickly when a taste is genuine, for example BB can’t stand bananas.

    Thanks for sharing in Family Frolics. 🙂

    • Thank you for such an excellent comment. I do tend to cook one meal but do think about their likes/dislikes it is how we started to have pasta with things I wouldn’t have normally. I don’t stop them having pudding either.

  9. Relaxing definitely helps, I try and ignore, and not get riled by food thrown on floor and not eaten. All the more difficult as she was tube fed so long and I am focused on calories. She is now doing normal toddler things and that is great tho frustrating.
    Great post x

  10. Thank you for this post – it helps to reflect on what you are doing. If you are still happy with it then there’s no problem, but if you see flaws you know there are things that can change for the better. This post has definitely helped me to reflect on my behaviour at the dinner table. 🙂

  11. i love this post. I love that you ask “who’s problem is it” – thats so important to ask. Often its not the child who has the issue. Its the parent, and getting over that can change your whole outlook to food challenges. I also love your “proud moment” – sitting for an entire meal is a huge thing and not something my son has yet managed (aged 3.5years). But I’d rather he ran around between mouthfuls but still ate a fair amount. I also couldn’t agree more about not using food as a reward. I need to remind myself of this from time to time. I’m featuring your post on the Sunday Parenting Party this weekend and pinning to the SPP pinterest board. Thanks for linking up.

  12. great post! i have one extremely picky eater. can a child live on bread, cheese, peanut butter and jelly alone? i give him a multi vitamin and had out doctor check his iron. all is well. thanks for this post! ~ Marnie (Carrots Are Orange)


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