How to help your fussy eater

Fussy Eaters Jeff Hendricks Unsplash

Problem eater. Fussy eater. Sensory eater. Whatever you choose to call it the one constant is the distress that selective eating issues serve up to families on a daily basis.

Rajes says food and mealtimes have always been a struggle for her 11-year-old son, Raam, who is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

But the Truganina mum says the help of experts, along with trial and error and acceptance there is no single solution have helped her family better manage the challenges.

With Raam first showing signs of selective eating as a toddler, the family has tried ‘everything available’ – from food play groups and therapy to paediatricians and dieticians – and found patience to be the key.

‘There is no definite solution for it. I just have to do what makes me sane and what makes Raam happy.’

Together with patience and persistence, parents can support their children to approach food in a more positive way through thoughtfully selected strategies.

Why won’t my child eat?

Whether or not your child has a specific diagnosis, it can be tricky to pinpoint a single reason for a child’s selective eating.

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Raam and his mum, Rajes

Contributing factors could include:

  • Oral motor development delays making it difficult for them to deal with different food consistencies,
  • Intense special interests distracting a child from eating what’s in front of them,
  • Resistance to transitioning from a favoured activity to mealtimes,
  • A child not recognising mealtimes as a social activity, or feeling overwhelmed by the social expectations
  • Sensory processing differences leading them to avoid certain smells and textures, or seek certain visual features and tastes over others.

What to avoid

While the right strategies can help build a positive relationship with food, there are some approaches that can push a child in the opposite direction.

Things like force feeding your child, making separate meals for them or ignoring their eating concerns can make things worse.

Avoid distractions, such as the TV or an iPad, that can prevent your child engaging in the mealtime experience.

Things to try

If you have concerns about your child’s eating you should first see your GP to rule out any specific medical concerns, such as malabsorption, allergies, constipation or even swallowing difficulties.

Creating positive, calm mealtimes is a great place to start. Reduce pressure on the child to eat and shift the focus to yourself by modelling good mealtime behaviours.

Use verbal praise or a reward chart to acknowledge successes such as staying seated at the table, watching a sibling eat or touching a new food.

Smaller, regular meals may help. Rajes says she puts a sandwich alongside five or six different snacks into Raam’s lunchbox so he has a choice of foods.

Rajes says through therapy and experience, they have learnt what works and what doesn’t for Raam.

‘He is still a fussy eater. There is still not a solution. But we just know okay if he isn’t hungry, not to get stressed about it. We have come to an acceptance, that if he’s not eating, I’m not going to force him.

For help with mealtimes, contact our paediatric therapy team through your nearest Gateways office or complete an intake inquiry and a team member will be in contact. 

{Banner image credit: Jeff Hendricks via Unsplash} 

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