Is your child a fussy eater?

One of our professors of pediatrics used to tell us that you can only be a good pediatrician once you have your own children. Since that was biologically impossible by the time our examinations approached, we decided to concentrate on the books instead. Later, as a father myself, I realized the importance of that statement. What I write here is a blend of these experiences as a father with a liberal helping of medical advice as a pediatrician.

Medically speaking our likeliness to any food is a very complex reaction that not only depends on the taste of the food but also on the visual impact, the smell and the environment. That’s why the same salad that we may dread at home may “taste” excellent in a restaurant where it has been served aesthetically and by a smiling good looking steward in a relaxed ambiance.

Children by nature like things to be familiar. You would have noticed how they like the same cartoons or the same bedtime stories repeated day after day, so it is not surprising when it comes to food, many children won’t try new foods until they’ve been exposed to them several times.

Here are some of the methods that would definitely go a long way to develop a balance between your expectations and the child’s nutritional needs.

Let your child be involved in food decisions. Include your child in shopping for vegetables and foodstuff or making his lunch/dinner. The child is more likely to eat something that he’s chosen for himself. However, take care to first pick up a few healthy foods yourself and then ask him to select from them.

Eat yourself what you expect the child to eat. Children feel comfortable by seeing you eat the same stuff that is expected of them to eat. It is important to sit together with the child and have a meal so he/she knows that the new stuff that you want him/her to eat is fine. Once the child sees you enjoy the food, he may be more willing to try out the new food.

Offer new foods slowly & in small quantities. When introducing new foods, offer just one new food at a time and present them in small quantities (along with other foods that the child eats). Provide multiple exposures of the same food for a few days before experimenting out with another food. Don’t provide a new food everyday as the child did not like the food prepared the day before. This approach will only lead to frustration amongst the mothers and refusal among the child. The best approach is to introduce one food a week, start by giving small quantities and increase quantities and then increase the number of servings.

Do not pressurize children to eat.  Pressurizing children often leads to aversion to the food and the child may become increasingly more resistant to it. Instead, talk on how tasty the food item is and how s/he is missing out on it. Some food aversions may be due to the fact that it reminds them of a time when they were sick or some other negative association. Stop offering your child the particular food if s/he complains that it will make him ill. You can always try again after some months. Some of you may still have similar aversions even in adult life also based on your past experience in childhood.

Don’t make a fuss over food. Treat meal times as another one of the activities in the child’s daily routine. Lay out the food on the table and make the child eat what he wants. Some children use the meal time to extract out bargains from their parents, I’ll eat this if ….. Never bargain with kids over food, they will make it habitual.

Let them skip a meal if they wish. Children, like us, may sometimes not want to eat. You may ask them to eat a less quantity if you feel but if they refuse, respect their decision.  Not eating one meal will have no impact on their growth or health status. 

Genetics does play a role. Yes, genes do have an important role to play in the development of taste. In some cases, If either parent does not like a particular kind of food (say milk), the chances are high that your child may have aversion to the same kind of food. Just because that food is healthy don’t try to force it on your child as you may have had to do as a child yourself. Research however suggests that such aversions are not universal.

 As your child’s world expands and he starts attending nursery and playschool, he will see his friends eating new and different kinds of food and this will surely inspire him to eat new things too.

Your child has an innate sense of how much food his body needs to grow and be healthy, and finally it’s his wish to decide what he’s going to eat. One study showed that even though 49 per cent of mothers considered their children ‘picky eaters’, all of the children in the study actually consumed a wide enough variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs and were healthy.

Probably the best thing you as a mother can do is to provide a wide variety of healthy foods in a relaxed environment so that mealtimes will be enjoyable for everyone involved. Good Luck!

Your comments would be a great help not only in establishing me here but also be a guide to the future topics on this column.

Dr. Sanjeev Ganguly is a pediatrician based in Delhi. He has several research publications in leading international journals and has served as the clinical expert in many international conferences.and the Founder director of Doorstep Doctor, a firm helping NRIs take care of their parents and family back in India. Doorstep Doctor addresses the crucial healthcare needs of parents and family still in India with a professionally managed healthcare program and emergency assistance right at their doorstep. Please click on the link here for more details.




Last 5 posts by Dr. Sanjeev Ganguly


  1. Anonymous

    Thank you. I think you are right about a relaxed atmostphere.

  2. Asha

    Is it better to feed children or let them eat on their own? I know in India they feed the children till very late and here they let kids eat on their own

  3. S Rawat

    I think this is a very relevant topic and I liked what you said about not offering same food every day. I would like to know about child sleep issues

  4. Pry

    Very good article. All the points makes a lot of sense.

  5. Marjorie

    Good point,Dr. Sanjeev. I am interested in hearing more from you on other child issues.

  6. Thank you everybody for your comments. Asha, yes it is better to let your children eat themselves. This improves the hand-mouth coordination as well as grasp of the child. Children usually manage to eat what is required even though it may appear that most of the food has been wasted.

  7. Smitha

    Its very true about not pressurizing the child. My nephew was a fussy eater when he was a baby and my sister would forcefully feed him. He would dread his mealtimes. After he turned 5,my sister just left him..Surpringly, he started eating the foods very good after that. Now he is 10,actually he is on a diet as he gained some extra pounds..Thank you Dr Sanjeev for the good points.

Leave a Reply