Concerned your fussy eater is not getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to grow up big and strong? Before you consider giving your child a meal replacement supplement, it's advised you offer a variety of healthy foods and encourage a balanced diet.

What is PediaSure?

PediaSure is marketed as "a milkshake style nutritional supplement, scientifically formulated to support healthy growth and development in fussy eaters".

If a child suffers from a medical condition that restricts them from consuming certain essential nutrients, a paediatrician may recommend this supplement which is safe for children over two. While it's packed with vitamins and minerals, the calories in PediaSure mostly come from sugar and artificial flavours, so it's not the healthiest choice of beverage.

Leanne Elliston from Nutrition Australia is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with 20 years experience working in child nutrition. We asked for her expert advice on fussy eaters and supplements…

What advice do you have for a toddler who has become a picky eater?

It is very normal for toddlers to display a fussiness around food. They are reaching an age of exerting their independence and their favourite expression becomes 'no'.

They are also much more aware of their surroundings, including the food they are exposed to. Anything that is new is often rejected at first (this is a natural defence mechanism from our hunter and gatherer days). Fear of new food is termed 'food neophobia' and is very common in toddlers.

My advice is to treat it as a passing phase and do not make a fuss over it.

Continue to offer your fussy eater a selection of healthy foods. (Image: Getty Images)

Can supplements (like PediaSure) help to ensure kids are getting all the nutrients they need?

It is always best for children to get their nutrients from the food it naturally comes from. Not only are nutrients better absorbed from their natural source but it also helps children to establish a healthy relationship with food and not need to rely on supplements for their nutrition.

I would only advise children's supplements in special circumstances after appropriate assessment of their diet and growth. If supplements are used, they should always be considered as a short term option whilst dietary food intake improves in variety and adequacy.

For little ones who are under their healthy weight range, would you advise a supplement?

A healthy diet does not require supplementation. Children that require supplementation may be showing signs of failure to thrive which means they are not growing along their percentile according to the growth charts.

If a child's growth starts to plateau over a period of time then that is a sign that they may not be receiving sufficient nutrition to support their growth. Their weight is less of an issue. Some children can be naturally thin but still growing well.

This is why it is always important to seek professional advice from a doctor or Accredited Practising Dietitian if parents are concerned about their child's growth and/or weight. Be mindful that any sudden weight loss or poor growth levels could be masking an underlying medical condition that may need to be investigated.

Reward charts can help encourage healthy eating. (Image: Getty Images.)

Is it best to continue offering vegetables even if your child doesn't eat them?

Absolutely! Don't give up too soon and try offering vegetables in different ways such as grated, cooked, mashed, roasted, in soups and casseroles or blended in dips. It can take children up to 15 exposures of a food before they will accept it. Exposure can include touching, smelling and tasting.

Also try offering the new or 'disliked' food with something that they enjoy eating (a bridging food). It helps make the new food more approachable. Think white sauce on vegetables, cheesy dip with vegie sticks or sliced cucumber on crackers with cheese.

If they still don't eat it that is ok. Avoid making a fuss over it. Any negative experiences at the table can easily set up aversions and create a poor relationship with food that can be long lasting right into adulthood. Be a good role model and let your children watch you enjoy eating the same vegetables.

Does bribery work?

Star charts and behaviour charts can be a useful tool to help encourage children to try their vegetables. Avoid using it in isolation and include other things that they can also achieve a star for, such as sitting at the table, helping to set the table, helping to carry dishes to the sink etc.

When children receive a number of stars then they earn a non-food treat such as a visit to a park or a small gift. Be careful not to bribe with food especially discretionary (or junk) food as it makes that reward food so much more enticing and places it up on a pedestal compared to the healthy foods they should be eating. It also develops an emotional connection with those foods.

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Tips to turn-around a fussy eater:

  • Make meal times fun: Fruit is always more appealing when cut up and displayed on a plate and you can cut sandwiches into fun shapes.
  • Offer healthy foods repeatedly and regularly.
  • Ignore fussy behaviour and give praise when your tot tries a new food.
  • Involve kids in the food preparation and give them a choice of what to eat.
  • Set a time limit of 15-20 minutes for meal times.
  • Do not force your child to eat as this can cause anxiety or anger issues.

When supplements are recommended…

There are some instances when health professionals will recommend vitamins or supplements for nutritional deficiencies:

  • If your child has a chronic disease that may effect the way they absorb foods
  • If your child has a growth problem, or is failing to thrive
  • If your child is on a particularly restrictive diet, such as vegan or multiple food allergies
  • If your child is at risk of low vitamin D, including children with darker skin and infants who have been breastfed for a long time by a mother who is low in vitamin D.

If you are concerned that your child may be low in essential vitamins or minerals, see your health professional.