Guardian Childcare & Education

Tips for Supporting Fussy Eaters

12th February 2020

At Guardian, we like to think of our Centres as an extension of our families homes and therefore are committed to supporting families both in and outside of the Centre. 

By collaborating with our families, we are able to deepen learning opportunities with experiences that relate back to their home environments, and share information that can be used to further nurture children at home.

One of the conversations that is always open between our teams and families is how to best support children who are fussy eaters.

Here, Guardian Childcare & Education St Kilda South Early Childhood Teacher, Kendall, shares her experiences and tested tips for supporting, educating and encouraging fussy eaters, both at the Centre and at home.

“We recently celebrated a big win with one of our fussy eaters at the Centre,” shares Kendall.

“Over the past several months, we have been supporting the continued learning about healthy development and eating at home for a particular young learner, Lucian.”

“We have been working with Lucian’s family from the beginning of his journey, communicating any new foods he’s been willing to try, and any that he particularly loves. At first he was hesitant to eat during meal times, and it’s very rewarding to see how far he’s come.”

supporting fussy eaters: child eating beef ragu

“Lucian was recently very excited about beef ragu for lunch, so we sent an extra serving home with him for dinner, so that his parents could share his enjoyment of food too. The smallest acts of support can make a big difference.”

Upon seeing photographs of Lucian eating his beef ragu, his family was thrilled, sending Kendall the following message: “Oh my goodness, we have to make postcards for the family with these photos. Thank you so much, I’ve never seen him react like this with food. We will definitely take some home for dinner.”

Kendall’s Top Tips for Educating and Supporting Fussy Eaters

1. Establish a starting point

We had two children at the Centre who were fussy eaters and ate limited food. One was drinking milk throughout the day but wouldn’t eat any food, and the other would only eat white bread and pasta grains. The team started off really small by introducing different foods to the children by holding them in their hands. 

The children were invited to touch and hold the food themselves when they were ready, as they were genuinely scared of food in the beginning. We then orchestrated intentional learning experiences that explored smell, taste and touch, asking the children what it might feel like in their mouths or in their hands. Over the course of many meal times, we built their confidence up to bringing food to their lips to taste, and eventually eat.

2. Allow children to exercise autonomy

We believe that children deserve to have autonomy in what they do and don’t want to eat. Autonomy comes when a child can make a mature decision in relation to healthy eating and what they choose to put in their body. If a child doesn’t hasn’t developed that maturity yet, we as adults need to put ourselves in charge and ensure they’re consuming a healthy diet.

When giving your child autonomy over their food, you need to be smart about it. For example, if you know that your child eats pasta, and they could probably eat carrot and broccoli, put all three in a bowl and let them choose one thing they don’t want to eat. Over time, you can build up the variety of food items in their bowl and limit their options of what they don’t have to eat.

supporting fussy eaters: children eating fruit and smiling

3. Pick your battles

No one has the time or energy to fight their child at every meal time and force them to eat. At Guardian, we share the success of the children’s eating with their parents. If they’ve eaten a really good meal for lunch, we encourage their families to just enjoy dinner at home. 

We recommend picking one meal a day where you have time to sit with your child and talk them through the meal. This may mean breakfast, morning tea or lunch, as opposed to dinner when you have limited time. 

4. Open up the conversation around food

In our kindergarten class, we use strong language when it comes to communicating with the children around mealtimes. We encourage the children to vocalise their feelings but also to try new things, as even our best eaters can be hesitant at times.

We often find that they don’t want to eat something if it’s not their ‘favourite’ so there’s been a lot of education around still eating something even if it’s not your favourite food. Some of the reasons we say to them include:

“It may not be your favourite food but you need to try all of the food on your plate.”

“It might not be your favourite but it helps your body grow and it’s good for you.”

“The more you eat something the more likely you are to like it, as our taste buds always change.”

5. Sync meals up with your childcare Centre

At Guardian, our Centres offer seasonal, rotating menus, which has been integral when building the children’s relationship with food. As each menu runs for four to six weeks, with each dish being served several times in the rotation, it helps the children build familiarity with a meal and know what to expect.

Serving a familiar meal also offers the opportunity to add new elements for children to explore. It’s less intimidating if there’s one new component of a dish, rather than an entirely new meal to brave. If you haven’t already, grab a copy of your Centre’s menu and prepare the dishes your child eats and enjoys at the Centre at home. 

children doing self experimental cooking to support fussy eaters in group

6. Promote the joy of food

At every meal, we are mindful to promote the joy of food and encourage conversations around the table while we’re eating. Having light and fun discussions, such as sharing our favourite part of the morning, or what we’re going to do after the meal, helps take the pressure off actually eating. 

We try to avoid singling out a child who isn’t eating with their peers. Instead, our team focuses on individual intentional teaching time with that child at a separate time, or away from the group, so that they don’t connect meal times to being stressed.

To further explore food, we often organise self-led experimental cooking experiences, where the children can be inventive and cook what they like. No recipes required – just some ingredients, a bowl and utensils.

Eating delicious food with friends and family should be an enjoyable experience, and over time will become so by practicing these tips.

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