When your child is a fussy eater

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 Photo: Getty

Sometimes putting on a show is the only way to get kids' to eat.

From singing a song, to doing a little dance, some parents will do anything to coerce a picky eater into finishing their dinner.

According to senior nutritionist and spokesperson for Nutrition Australia, Aloysa Hourigan, fussy eating has become more common.

As for why that's happening: "It's a bit unclear," she said.  

Certainly, "Kids have problems with food allergies and intolerance and we know those rates have increased."

"But there are some situations where you think this is not about fussy eating, this is about the child manipulating the parent."

Especially when children are between the ages of two to four, they start to develop a greater sense of autonomy and they seek their own identity.

Meaning, sometimes food can turn into a "power game".

The tricky part for parents is to work out whether it is a behavioural problem or if their child has some anxiety issues around eating.

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"I think when kids are anxious around food it is more than just I don't want to eat that," she said.

Before parents put on their next stage show, Hourigan has some tips for parents of fussy eaters.

Don't make a fuss

It's important that parents don't make a big fuss about their child being a fussy eater.

Hourigan said, "Put a little bit [of food] on their plate and encourage them to have a little mouthful but still try not to make a big fuss about not eating it all."

Don't cook separate meals for everyone

"I think the worst thing parents can do is make a rod for their own back where they start to cook separately for each person's likes and dislikes," she said.

Instead of catering for everyone separately, let them know you will be taking it turns.

Sit down and eat with them

It's also essential that parents sit down with their kids so they get used to seeing them eat the food.

Often, over time children start to try things just because they get used to seeing everyone else eating these foods.

Make sure your child is comfortable

Another thing is to make sure the child is comfortable while they are eating.

"Sometimes kids can get anxious if they're not feeling stable at the table. It's quite important to make sure their feet are stable."

Let them serve themselves

During this time of developing their autonomy, it can help to put dishes containing a selection of different foods in the middle of the table and allow them to serve their own dinner.

But Hourigan says, "There can be rules that what you put on your plate you've got to at least try."

For parents who worry that their children aren't getting enough nutrients, Hourigan says it's best to have a chat with your doctor before giving them any supplements.

"If the child is a very fussy eater and omitting all vegetables, there might be a place for having a vitamin supplement," she said.

Additionally, if a child's iron deficient, that will affect their appetite and sense of taste.

Lastly, Hourigan wants parents to know that they aren't alone.

If your child is a fussy eater, it's worth visiting an accredited practicing dietician who deals with children and healthy eating for families and they can offer some good advice and tips.