“I don’t want to eat this!”, “I don’t like how this tastes!” “This is green, I don’t eat green food!”, “This is too hard/ too soft/ too spicy…”. The list goes on.... How many times have you heard these statements from your child? Of course, if you have a child between the ages of one and six, these are some common statements that you might hear. And it is expected of children to be fussy eaters and is a natural part of a child’s development. It also provides them with opportunities to explore their environment and assert their independence. In addition, this could also be attributed to their appetites which can change
depending on how active they are and what milestones they are at.
Some tips to handle fussy eaters
Make mealtimes pleasant
Your child’s willingness to try food will depend partly on the eating environment and mostly
pleasant, low-stress mealtimes can help.
How to achieve this:
● Make mealtimes happy, regular and social occasions. We might want everything to be
perfect but keep it simple with children. Worry less about spilling or dropping food on
the floor or on themselves.
● Have realistic expectations – for example, you can start by asking your child to taste or
even smell a food item, and work up to trying a mouthful over time. Don't forget to praise your child for any small effort they make to try any new food.
● Avoid forcing your child to try a particular dish. They will have lots of other
opportunities to try new foods.
● If your child is making a fuss about food, ignore it as much as you can. Giving fussy
eaters unwanted attention can sometimes encourage unpleasant behaviours.
● Make healthy foods fun – for example, cut sandwiches into interesting shapes, or let your
child help prepare a salad or whisk eggs for an omelette with you. Encourage them to
make their own meal of choice.
● Turn the TV off or any other distractions so that your family members can talk to each
other during mealtime.
● The next point might seem hard to implement, but can be helpful in learning. Set a time
limit of about 20 minutes for meals. Anything that goes on too long isn’t fun. If your child hasn’t eaten the food in this time, take it away and don’t offer your child more food until the next planned meal or snack time. Sometimes children are too distracted to sit at the family table for a meal. If this sounds like your child, try having quiet time before meals so she can calm down before eating. Even the ritual of hand-washing can help.
Giving fussy eaters independence with food
It can be a good idea to support your child’s need for independence when it comes to food. It’s up to you to provide healthy food options for your child. And it’s up to your child to decide how much he’ll eat!
You could also try letting your child make choices among a range of healthy foods. Limit the
options to two or three things, so your child doesn’t get too confused or overwhelmed to eat.
For example, instead of asking your child to pick what she wants from the fridge, you could ask, ‘Would you like grapes or carrot sticks?’
Another top tip is getting your child involved in preparing family meals
For example, your child could help out with:
● picking a recipe
● washing fruit and veggies
● tossing a salad.
Children feel proud of helping and more likely to eat something they have helped to make. This is an amazing start to help them develop their creativity.
How to introduce new foods to fussy eaters
If you have a fussy eater who doesn’t like trying new food, here are some tips that might help:
● Put a small amount of new food on the plate along with familiar food that your child
already likes – for example, a bowl of rice alongside some boiled carrots or a leafy
vegetable. Encourage your child to touch, smell or take a lick of the new food.
● Make food attractive. Offer your child a variety of different colours, shapes and sizes. On
some days let your child choose what he/ she eats from the range of items.
● Keep offering previously refused foods. Your child will probably try it and eventually
like it – but he might have to see a particular type of food on the plate 10-15 times before
he even tries it!
● When possible, look for opportunities for your child to share meals and snacks with other
children – they might be more willing to try a food if other children are eating and
● Serve your child the same meal the family is eating but serve a smaller portion that your
child will be able to eat. If your child doesn’t eat it, say something like, ‘Try it, it’s
yummy!’. If he still doesn’t want it, calmly say, ‘Okay, we’ll try it another time when
● Offer different foods from each of the good food groups. For example, if your child
doesn’t like cheese, yoghurt could be an alternative.
● Try not to let your child fill up on drinks or junk food before introducing new foods.
They are more likely to try the food if they are hungry and don’t have the option of eating
Punishments and bribes for fussy eaters?
Not a good idea. Punishing your child for refusing to try new foods can turn new foods into a negative thing. If your child refuses to eat it, you can offer it to him again another time.
It’s tempting to offer your child food treats just so he ‘eats something’ – for example, ‘If you
have a carrot, you can have some chocolate’. But this can make your child more interested in treats than healthy food. It also sends the message that eating healthy food is a chore.
Fussy eating facts
These facts can help you understand why children sometimes fuss about their food:
● Children have different taste preferences from grown-ups.
● Life is too exciting for children sometimes, and they’re too busy exploring the world
around them to spend time eating.
● Children learn by testing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. They can be very strong willed when it comes to making decisions about food (to eat or not to eat, and what to eat). It’s all part of their social, intellectual and emotional development.