Will My Child Grow Out of Their Fussy Eating?
Tonight’s dinner has been typical of my my family meals the past 6 months. I serve a family meal, we all sit down and my toddler proceeds to push the food away and say yuck when after a while will start eating though usually only one part of the meal. Now this is not just one meal, but pretty much every meal we have. Even when I am making my toddler’s favourite food, he loves to reject it.
While this is happening my my 5 year old asks for seconds. He is happy to try new foods, looks forward to mealtimes and behaves t the dinner time. Watching my eldest eat so well while my youngest mucks around is a great reminder to me that kids will grow out of fussy eating.
My Son Was Not Always a Good Eater
Now my eldest wasn’t always a good eater. Through the haze of sleep deprivation from having a toddler and a new born baby I do remember periods of my eldest refusing meals or refusing foods he had previously liked. There is really no sign of that fussiness now. Besides continually rejecting my vegetable fritters, my eldest will eat pretty much anything I serve and is even getting better at tasting new foods.
So...Will My Child Grow Out of Their Fussy Eating?
With this knowledge ticked away, and having seen it all before, this gives me the confidence that my youngest will stop being so painful at mealtime and that “This phase shall pass” I often see questions on the mum’s Facebook groups I am part of asking about their kid’s fussy eating and strategies to help their child to eat better. Many of the mum’s are reassuring and talk about their older kids who used to be fussy and as they got older started eating better.
So what you then want to know from me, is whether this will be the same for your child. Will mealtimes start becoming the calm and happy time of day you have always dreamt about? The answer to this question is….”it depends”
The Definition of Fussy Eating
Unfortunately there is really no good definition for what is fussy eating. Many people working in the field like to use the cut off of eating less than 20 foods means your child is fussy but this has never been an agreed upon definition. For a researcher like me, this then makes it difficult to study fussy eating as we don’t know how to define it. So when there are studies coming out telling us how common fussy eating is, it is really hard to compare between studies.
As a busy parent of a fussy eating child, you don’t need some boring researcher to tell you that your child is fussy. The daily mealtime battles, the constant throwing of food, the getting up and down from the table and the need for 2 hours of forcing, cajoling and distraction to get your child to eat a few bites of a meal tells you that your child is fussy. In those times of stress and craziness of the mealtime routine, you just want to know that your child will grow out of fussy eating.
Yes I am sorry I am being non-committal about your child’s eating habits and whether that too shall pass. That is because there are a number of factors that you need to take into account to help you to decide whether this is “Just a Phase” or whether your need more help with your child’s eating.
Normal Fussy Eating
I have talked about this in previous posts but fussy eating is a normal part of a child’s development and can start from around one year of age….or in the case of my 2 boys...10 months of age. The normal trajectory is that fussy eating worsens around the age of 2-3 and then will start to get better around the age of 5. Some studies have shown that in some countries up to 50% of kids are fussy around the age of 3 years. If your child took to solids well, progressed with textures and finger food and liked vegetables at the beginning and then become fussy as I described above then your child is more likely to grow out of it.
This is so important for you to remember. When a child becomes fussy, parents tend to get stressed and worried their child won’t eat enough food. Then they try and cajole and distract and push their child to eat which over time can actually cause fussy eating to worsen and become permanent. I always tell parents that their job at this stage of their child’s eating is to make sure they don’t make the fussy eating worse. Check out my blog post on 4 little known mistakes that could stop your child trying new foods, to get some great tips how to deal with this.
A parent's role is to make sure their child's fussy eating does not get worse
So getting back to whether they will grow out of fussy eating. The bottom line is that kids who started solids well and became fussy later are more likely to grow out of it, as long as something doesn’t happen to make them start being scared of new foods. The best thing for parents to do is to continue to serve nutritious meals and to accept that their child may go through a phase of rejecting every meal. This is normal and it will pass….eventually
Phew, yes kids are complicated!!
Unfortunately there are exceptions to this rule
When they Won't Grow Out of It
If you have a child who has been fussy from a very young age then they may not actually grow out of their fussy eating ways. I am talking about the children who never ever ever took solids very well when solids when started. They may take puree OK but once more solid foods or finger foods are introduced then the food rejection takes over. Over time the kids remain on puree as that is all they will take.
Unfortunately what happens is that this type of fussy eating child never learns proper chewing or swallowing skills. This means that when they are presented with a tougher food, they spit it out as they do not know how to swallow it. This gets mistaken for a dislike of the food and the circle continues.
I go into this topic much deeper in my post here on surprising facts about food textures and fussy eaters. The bottom line is that if a child does not get good chewing skills then they are not going to grow out of their fussy eating with time.
What To Do With a Fussy Eater
If this sounds like your child may have issues with chewing, then the first stop would be to see a paediatric speech pathologist. You need to find one who specialises in feeding not speech. Paediatric speech pathologists have been trained to assess a child’s chewing and swallowing (their oral-motor skills) and can provide information to parents about how to help their child get the skills they need to learn how to eat food. The next step would be do to feeding therapy with trained practitioners.
The bottom line is that if your child has been fussy from 6 months of age then they will need help to grow out of the fussy eating. For those kids who started out as good eaters and turned fussy then they are likely to grow out of it but only if mealtimes can remain calm and happy.
If you find mealtimes becoming stressful for you as a parent and you have started using forcing or distraction to get your child to eat then I definitely recommend seeing a feeding professional to learn techniques to help support your child to grow out of their fussy eating ways. Check out my free guide to reveal 7 tips for reducing mealtime stress.
Was this helpful? I hope so. Please leave your comments below.
Dr Jennifer Cohen
"Providing Bite-Sized Pieces of Nutrition Information to Busy Families"
PS. If you would like more great tips on how to have calm and happy mealtimes with your family, please download my FREE guide on
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