There is no single widely accepted definition of fussy eating. It is commonly understood as some sort of challenge during feeding because the child only eats a limited amount of food, has strong food preferences, has restricted intake and/or is unwilling to try new food. 

Parents generally panic as they tend to worry that their child may not be getting enough nutrition and will hinder their growth.

Why do children exhibit such behaviour?

Majority of young fussy eaters exhibit refusal for food as they are experiencing ways to assert their independence or to gain attention from their parents and caregivers as they grow up. While such instances are very common in children, it is important to understand why a child is reacting negatively towards food, especially in their toddler and preschool years.

Dr Martha Liu, Paediatrician, SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, said: “Factors such as parental practices/feeding styles, including parental control, pressure to eat, social influences, personality factors, underlying medical condition and others may contribute to the development of picky eating.”

Symptoms which show that your child is most probably a fussy eater:

  • Over 20-30 minutes are needed per mealtime
  • Mealtimes are always difficult, tiring and/or not enjoyable
  • Child has to be force-fed
  • Television, toys or videos are needed to distract the child and pacify them to eat
  • Child tends to avoid specific food or some foods from a particular texture
  • Child will throw tantrums

“Whether or not children outgrow this phase on their own depends on each individual child. If a child is purely a fussy eater without any underlying medical or behavioural condition, she/he has a good chance of outgrowing this phase. If a child has underlying medical or behavioural condition, I would suggest that parents seek consultation from a paediatrician on this,” explained Dr Liu.

While it can be to parents’ favour if their child insists on only eating a certain type of food, it is recommended to offer new food together with the food that your child likes and encourage him/her to try the new food first.

How to prevent children from becoming fussy eaters?

There is no definite method to prevent children from becoming fussy eaters but there are some standards parents can put in place as a routine to possibly help reduce the chances of it:

  • Have a fixed routine and structure such as eating at the table and eating together as a family
  • Build a positive atmosphere during meal times
  • Do not panic and do not start lecturing when the child refuses
  • Be patient and calm throughout meal times
  • Always have one preferred dish among the variety of food
  • Keep the child strapped in a booster or high chair until the age of 3 to prevent them from getting down and running away during meal times
  • Change presentation of food from time to time to avoid repetition
  • Avoid giving snacks or drinks an hour before the main meals