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Calling all parents of fussy eaters for advice - how do you deal with it?

102 replies

magicmallow · 15/06/2020 08:42

Hi all, posting for traffic, not really an AIBU (sorry).

No offence but I'm not really looking for advice from kids that eat everything or are non-fussy. It seems to me there are some kids that will eat, and others that won't, and some kids that there is little you can do to change it if they are fussy.

I want advice from mums and dads that have actually got fussy eaters. My DD is 7. She has always been particular.

She will eat plain vegetables, chips, veggie frozen foods e.g. sausages, burgers etc, plain spaghetti, rice, popadoms, jacket potatoes, bread, yogurt, pizza etc. Basically plain food.

when it comes to cooked foods or anything with a sauce or mixed together she flat out refuses to eat it. She will take a small bite but always without fail she "doesn't like it". I avoid getting confrontational about it but I find it very wearing.

She will only eat certain brands of foods e.g. one type of sausage roll, if there is a spec of a herb on something she won't eat it, if the plain spaghetti has a tiny bit of oil or salt it's a no. (This does my head in).

So I try so hard to cater to her tastes e.g. making potato fritters like the ones she eats at school, macaroni cheese (she will only eat the school one), etc etc, foods I do not want to cook but try, she still says she doesn't like them - it's almost like she hates it before she's even tasted it. (NB I am not a bad cook!).

I find it very very wearing. I do not want to eat beige food. I have to cook two separate dinners or include some items she wants to eat and inevitably she leaves my food.

I've tried everything from coaxing, to being non-plussed when she won't eat them, to praising good behaviour, offering choices.

I'm slowly being worn into the ground.

I want to be able to enjoy some more foods together but I feel like I am bashing my head against a wall. I really do try to avoid it becoming a control issue so I don't do any forcing. A bite that's it!

I'm depressed that I am not making more progress.

So, parents of fussy eaters how do you deal with your child's fussy eating - have you just accepted it? Found any tips and tricks that work? Books? Recommendations?

I feel like I should give up to be honest, it feels like an uphill struggle that I am never going to win, with tons of wasted time and food in the process, it's wearing me out mentally (even if DD is oblivious).

Many thanks

OP posts:
magicmallow · 15/06/2020 08:42

PS sorry I have just realised it's an essay!

OP posts:
Mabelface · 15/06/2020 08:49

Could be sensory issues. I can be like this and have suspected asd (awaiting assessment). Food has to be right in order for me to eat it. I like fried egg sandwiches, but if there's a hint of ketchup, I gag. Not because the taste is bad, but because it's wrong.

You could try giving her what you know she'll eat, with a tiny try of something else on a separate plate, and no pressure or acknowledgement of she does try it. Low key all the way to prevent and anxiety around food.

GreenTeaMug · 15/06/2020 08:53

I will watch with interest. My DS aged 11 is a fussy eater and it has been hard. very hard.
He is slowly getting better now..........

weaselwords · 15/06/2020 08:55

I really looked at his diet and worked out if it had a balance of carbs fat and protein and was quite surprised that it did. So I then found the meals that I can make that are acceptable to all of us and cook those. I stopped cooking multiple meals as that seemed to reinforce the behaviour. I also made sure he had a multivitamin, just in case.

The main work was on my frustration and feelings of rejection. This was compounded by his incredibly slow eating and being very thin. I was very worried for his health and that I was negligent allowing him to eat like this. Begging, blackmailing and threatening weren’t working so I left him to it. He was so slow eating we’d leave him at the table to eat and he was quite happy with that.

He’s now 18, still painfully thin but 6’3”, so was eating enough to grow. He eats much faster now and is quite adventurous with food. I am a lot less obsessed about what he eats but I still have to bite my tongue.

BalloonSlayer · 15/06/2020 08:55

I was a fussy eater and grew out of it.

DD was terrible too. She is in her late teens now and has over the last couple of years become more adventurous.

Youngest DC also quite fussy but starting at nearly 13 to try a bit more.

I have heard talk on Mumsnet of some children being "supertasters." If this exists, I think I might have been one, and the same with DD. I remember ginger biscuits and sausages being almost too spicy for me to bear (although I liked them both) and DD used to refuse to drink water because she didn't like the taste (WTF?!)

My advice is to relax, give her what she's happy with, and she will grow out of it.

CroissantsAtDawn · 15/06/2020 08:56

My mum was a fussy eater. So was I. So were my 2 sons.

Consequently my mum never forced me. She made stuff I liked (fortunately I loved homemade food, it was restaurant and shop bought stuff that I was really picky with) and just ensured I had enough frut and veg.

I could definitely taste when she used different ingredients- I'm still very sensitive to taste but have become a lot less fussy. I was never really hungry as a child, so only ate things that I LOVED. It wasn't until I left home that I realised that it was ok to sometimes eat meals that I didn't find delicious. And yes, I would anticipate not liking something before tasting it cos I could imagine its taste and texture and not liking it.

My mum used to sometimes cook different food for me and DB. Or she would allow me to pick out bits that I don't like (I like chicken casserole but not mushrooms so would pick them out).

DS1 was very fussy about texture. Eating school dinners from age 7 helped a lot in expanding his tastes and now he's hardly fussy at all (aged 8).

DS2 is fussier and also has a small appetite. He will not eat things he "likes" if its not the same brand as it tastes different (I agree - it does!). The hardest is that he doesn't like the texture of meat so I have to cut it up really really small.

As a general rule I cook one thing for the meal but I also have batch cooked individual portions of thing in the freezer for DS2 for if he doesn't like the meal. I occasionally bribe him to try a new meal and he is gradually expanding what he eats. Luckily (or unluckily!) He likes things in sauces (casseroles, stews, soups) so gets loads of veg in those. He asks for more vegetables in them (but wont eat side servings of veg).

This is an essay but honestly, just let it go. Forcing the issue won't help. Both have really improved with age and as long as they eat healthily and exercise a lot, Im not too bothered that by having to batch cook individual portions.

kingkuta · 15/06/2020 08:57

I was going to start a post re this and am really hoping to get some good advice or positive stories from posters whose children have become less fussy! Dd has a very limited amount of things she will eat. Aged 9 now and it drives me crazy she wont try new things.

Apolloanddaphne · 15/06/2020 08:58

My DD2 was like this. DD1 ate anything so it came as a shock to me. I just gave her the food she liked and made no fuss about it. She too hated 'wet' food. It was very wearing to make different food and real hassle when out as we had to choose where to eat vey carefully. I kept offering her other things and didn't comment if they went uneaten. Eventually she tried different things.

Peer pressure was the best thing. She would eat things in other people's homes then declared she now loved them - curry was a big surprise!

She is now age 22 and eats anything. I would say the biggest changes came when she was a young teen (peer pressure) then when she went to uni she really changed a lot.

Stick with it and try not to get too downhearted. Keep offering different foods. Her diet looks much like my DD's did at that age. She now says she wished she had tried things earlier. She accepts that if she didn't like the look of something she just wouldn't eat it which she knows is ridiculous now she is an adult.

Purplewithred · 15/06/2020 08:59

Both my kids were fussy eaters and you have my sympathy. Like you I tried pretty much everything with ds and found it depressing, worrying , frustrating and a reflection on both my parenting skills and my cooking.

DS is now 30 and he is still a very picky eater, but he’s fit and well and fully functioning. He genuinely does not like the taste or smell of lots of foods and has a small appetite. DD is 27 and has more or less grown out of it.

With the benefit of hindsight I would have recognised DS’s small appetite, done baby-led weaning (bit late for you), fussed much less, catered for them a bit less, and had far more family meals rather than kids meals and adult meals.. One thing that did work well for DS was paying him to try new things but if he didn't like it then he didn't have to eat any more, so it was safe for him to try new foods.

Try not to be too galled when she comes home from friends’ houses and says ‘why do we never have mushrooms, I really like mushrooms’ etc. Don’t let her appetite control your relationship and give her time to grow out of it. Once she starts socialising more, eating at friends houses etc you will get a better grip on whether it’s her tastebuds or a relationship thing.

APomInOz · 15/06/2020 09:02

My 6 year old son has ADHD and ODD.
His food is limited to beige. Chicken nuggets, pasta, rice, tuna, bacon, sausage rolls (discovered one that he will eat). Cooked in certain ways too. I cook 3 meals a night, because my daughter will eat a lot more variety and I am vegetarian. It is exhausting but giving in and letting him eat what he enjoys is far less stress. He eats cucumber and sometimes avocado and occasionally celery, so this is what he gets each meal.
Good luck and stop fighting it. Fingers crossed they grow out of it.

Hippofrog · 15/06/2020 09:05

My son will only eat dry food, so no gravy or sauces (rules out curry, chilli, bolognaise etc) so he eats meat, veg and potato every single day or varying sorts, if he has cereals (fave is shredded wheat) he won’t have milk on them but in a cup. He will only eat dry toast no butter.....He has been the same all his life. He like plain dry food 🤢.

Boulshired · 15/06/2020 09:06

DS2 is sensory but then becomes a compulsion. I swap shops and brands, and as long as he is getting enough nutrients I am relaxed. Looking at your list I would start with pizza as that is not really bland. It has sauce, it has cheese. It can be used to expand upon. I think at this age it can be as much visual. My eldest son was limited until secondary school now eats pretty much everything except mushrooms.

AngelicInnocent · 15/06/2020 09:12

I have one who would always try anything (and usually like it) and one who was really fussy. She is still a bit picky but is much better now.

Monday to Friday, I used to feed them food that she definitely liked, also made it easier if they had friends for playdates etc, earlier than us. Say 5pm. Then when DH and I had our dinner about 7pm, they would join us at the table to chat and they were free to taste our food, help themselves to a portion etc but I didn't have to worry if they didn't like it because they had already had dinner.

Weekends, we ate as a family. I would make things that could be served in separate bits so she could have what she wanted. For example, pasta, her sauce in a separate dish to dunk in if she wanted, a little bit of Grated cheese and chopped salad bits on a side plate and she put it together as she wished.

Splattherat · 15/06/2020 09:14

OP my DD was like yours and only liked very plain food pasta with cheese, margerita pizza, jacket potato with cheese or beans, rice, chips and that was about it but strangely she liked balsamic vinegar. This was in contrast to my DS a year older who would eat practically anything apart from butter/spread or cheese.
I hate to admit this OP but as DD has got older she has got even more fussy and now won’t eat meat. She is 15 now and is an absolute nightmare. We make separate meals for her every night or sometimes she makes her own. I am past caring as long as she eats something as every night was a battleground.
Things we have tried that have sometimes worked well for her is if she makes a Fruit smoothie herself, she loves halloumi cheese (she will have this with rice and either sweetcorn or grated carrot), she will eat certain homemade veg soups if liquidised, she will have a satay sauce (she likes peanut butter) with rice, noodles with soy sauce (grated carrot and sweetcorn notice a pattern with veg), beans on toast, margerita pizza, she also likes a greek dish beginning with F soomething like fasoli with butter beans in (as a takeaway with pitta bread), she will eat dhansak sauce with no meat and rice as a takeaway. For packed lunches she will have an empty roll or occasionally a cheese sandwich.
It is very hard work

pippakins · 15/06/2020 09:16

My son was the same - from weaning he only ate a very limited range of food, and it was plain (pasta, white bread, bananas). Eventually I gave up trying to make him eat anything he didn't want to, and just gave him what he wanted. Over his teenage years he branched out very gradually at his own pace and now, while he still won't touch sauces/spicy food, he eats chicken, vegetables, rice etc and is a healthy 19 year old.

Like pps have said, I wouldn't worry as long as long as your daughter eats - I think battles with food are ones you can't win, and just cause more stress for both you and your daughter.

Good luck!

Tiktokcringeydance · 15/06/2020 09:22

I'm sorry I have no advice but I'm just here in solidarity! I have a very fussy DD.(shes nearly 14) Yesterday we had a BBQ and racking our brains what the kids would have in the way of vegetables (she can't have carrot sticks as she has a brace, neither DC eat salad, or any vegetable that could be BBqed like peppers for example) DH just cooked some baked beans but she was worried they'd be too spicy as he put about 6 grains of black pepper on the top!!

Rugbylife · 15/06/2020 09:30

I have one of these, he’s now almost 18, over the years I’ve tried everything to get him to try different foods but he just refused, He’s not underweight and he plays a very physical sport so gets his energy from somewhere. He eats no fruit, veg or any wet foods but drinks plenty of milk and orange juice and now has a few meals the same as the family but we have always kept to eating meals together around dinner table and tried not to make an issue of things. When he was going for tea at his friends I’d always give them his own food so he could eat. He still has memories of his Y1 teacher forcing him to eat a piece of cheese, he was distraught and After that I told school never interfere again! He will now eat Chicken, Steak, Bacon, Burgers, skinny chips, white rice, garlic bread. Christmas dinner has always been 4 Yorkshire puds and bisto gravy. My other 2 have a normal diet so nothing done differently at least he doesn’t like sweets and very rarely eats crisps and then it’s only one make and one variety. Eating out and holidays has always been tricky but he’s survived. A dietitian told me, he’s not lacking anything in his bloods as long as he’s eating something don’t worry! He asks to try things in his own time, which I’m always happy to oblige even if he doesn’t like it.

Princessdebthe1st · 15/06/2020 09:30

Hi OP,
My DD is now 13. She was incredibly 'fussy' as a younger child but is getting much better now. I don't really like the term fussy as it has a really negative, almost moral connotation. It sets up a dynamic that is unhelpful before anybody even puts anything in their mouth. So the first thing I would suggest it to changed the narrative around it. She isn't fussy, she knows what she likes and what she doesn't and she is slow to try new things.
Practical advice from my experience - although it is a bit of a pain I found that cooking different things for DD (usually something very easy) and myself actually helped as at times she would ask to try what I was having and it was through this that quite a few new things got added. Shopping centre food halls (difficult now, I know) were great because we could eat out and have our own choices. It was through these she developed a love of chicken teriyaki which a couple of years ago she would not have considered.
My DD is not a great fan of fruit (except strawberries and raspberries) but now likes a lot more veg and will quite happily have peas as a snack (frozen petit poison only!). When she was little I really worried about this but then I did an inventory of what she was eating and actually it was a bit of a wider range than I thought and certainly enough to give her the nutrients she needed so I just stopped the pressure. The other thing that helped was getting her to cook with me as she often tried what we made or the ingredients we put in. That was how peppers got added to the list (although only red ones). Essentially, take the pressure off, don't compare or allow others to compare her to others and let her take her time.

zingally · 15/06/2020 09:52

I was (apparently) a fussy toddler, and my DD3 is a bit as well.

It used to drive my mum bonkers. All I'd eat was cheese. But my parents resigned themselves to the fact that at least cheese was a good choice for a little kid!
They just kept presenting me with the same meals as everyone else, and I either ate it, or I didn't.

I'm the same now with my fussy DD. She gets the same meal as her brother (twins). I do offer them a choice for dinner, "do you want fish cake or sausage?" so they have a bit of ownership, but that's the extent of my catering to the fussiness.

If she's hungry later, I'll either re-heat some of her dinner, or offer fruit.

I'm a Reception/Year 1 class teacher by trade, so my "heart of stone" is pretty tough, when it comes to whinging small children! I just tell myself, "I'm the adult", and she can like it or lump it. She's not small or skinny for her age (despite being a month premature), so I figure we're okay.

WiddlinDiddlin · 15/06/2020 10:03

Adult 'fussy eater' here..

Only I'm not, I have sensory issues, a sliding hiatus hernia and gut problems which make swallowing a problem, a really strong and sensitive gag reflex and several other things, all of which I've had all my life none of which were dx as a child...

First of all, drop the term 'fussy eater' because it makes it sound as if she's doing this on purpose to piss you off - I can assure you, she isn't.

Now drop all confrontation over it, whatsoever.

No 'just try a bit' no 'one bite' no bribery, no 'if you don't eat x you can't have y'.. none of that at all.

Each meal, put you foods you know she does like (and she seems to like a pretty decent range of stuff tbh!)... and if you are cooking other foods for yourself, make those available too. Put everything in serving dishes on the table where possible, everyone can serve themselves.

Say absolutely fucking nothing at all.

She eats what she eats, she doesn't eat what she doesn't, and IF she tries something new... Say nothing!

One of the worst feelings is trying something new, then everyone makes a huge fuss and undermines your fear and anxiety about trying it by going 'seeeee it wasn't so nasty after all' and this actually puts you off trying new things in the future!

Experimenting with new foods absolutely has to be safe so she needs to know that there will be no discussion, no co-ercion, no pressure, she can spit things out if she needs to (give her a tissue she can spit things out into) and no one will comment if she does that!

If you can get her involved in helping you cook, great, if not don't worry about that for now you can always try that again in a few weeks/months. If that does work though, still keep the pressure off about actually eating something she's helped to cook.

I know that at the age of 40, I have cooked something, it smelt delicious, it looked wonderful but by the time it came to serving up, despite my painful hunger, just could NOT face trying it, which upset me enormously... if I'd had someone there pressuring me or bollocking me over it, it would have been a million times worse.

I've found that being able to 'play' with food helps, if I can cut it up small, touch it with my fingers, squidge it, lick my fingers to see what it tastes like etc, that can make me feel far safer - and by doing that I have started to like olives, and now like mushrooms, vegan sushi and certain kinds of soup!

Just keep in mind that every time you think 'this is a fucking pain in the arse'... if it's not fun for you, be assured its REALLY, not fun for her either.

SunbathingDragon · 15/06/2020 10:09

Just ignore it completely.

The reason why some children with a restricted diet expand their range as an adult is because that’s the first opportunity where they can calmly do so without any pressure or need to control. If you remove that pressure at an earlier age, then it’s more likely to begin at an earlier age.

In general, your child really will be ok even if they have a restricted and (to outsiders) boringly repetitive diet.

Namenic · 15/06/2020 10:16

DS6 became more and more specific, cutting out foods he would previously eat. At first I would just leave him but not particularly cook anything different. However it got to the point where it was very difficult as we were living with my parents and they cooked. In the end we made him understand that he had to eat things (within reason - ie things he had previously eaten, that he was not repulsed by). He was made to sit and eat at least some of it before leaving the table.

He does not have any conditions. It has worked - much of his dislike was psychological. We cut up meat and tried to remove gristle/fatty bits. He didn’t have to eat it all, but at least half a portion. Often we found that once he started, he would find it not too bad and eat more. Still not a huge range of food, but at least not getting narrower as it had been.


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Mangofandangoo · 15/06/2020 10:22

I don't have much advice to give OP but my MIL often talks about how fussy DH was as a child, would only eat a certain type of pizza for years and it's wore her down - then overnight it changed and he started eating everything and anything. Just sending some hope for you that it gets easier Thanks

magicmallow · 15/06/2020 11:10

thanks everyone - some good points here.

I'd like to make clear that although DD is a "fussy" eater as I have written here I never let her hear that term, and she is on the whole pretty happy about food because she is catered to in most instances. She is a happy child and is never made to feel miserable about food. She is just particular. She will also try a bite without much resistance for the most part.

I am really conflicted however about making two meals. I do not want to eat the food she eats. So what do I do? I always include something she wants to eat. Unfortunately invariably it is very different to what I want to eat. How do I reconcile that? Do I provide a different dinner or an alternative? Do I try a take it or have nothing approach?

OP posts:
JigoloHarMegiddo · 15/06/2020 11:12

My younger 2 (of 4) are what you would call fussy eaters, but it's all sensory processing disorder. I have one sensory seeker (lots of bland smooth things) and one sensory avoider (no spice, no granular textures, no sauces)They each have a list of failsafe meals they are prepared to eat, that they can prepare, and other than that I cook meals in separate parts - protein, carbs, choice of veg (at least 4, the rule is 2 veg on your plate), jug of sauce. It's not as hard as it sounds, and has flexed easily to accommodate DC1 going almost-vegan and my diagnosis of food intolerances (turns out it's not normal to feel sick and have stomach ache all the time).

The turning point for me was accepting that it was important to eat together, as a family, but not important to all eat the same thing. And I have found some positives - both of them will eat lots of crunchy raw veg, for example. I'm not a short order cook either, but I have lots of pairings that work - if we have chicken with pesto, DD has chicken with vinaigrette and DS1 has a quorn escalope. If we have salmon, DD and DS3 have fishfingers and DS1 has a fishalike. If we have curry, DS1's is made with quorn and DS3 has a pickled egg and salad.

I can see a concern might be that other DC in the family might see it as special treatment, at which point you do need to look more deeply at whether they like what they're eating, or just tolerating it.

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