Updated: Jun 1
Almost half of children will go through a fussy eating period in the early years. It’s normal for children to be uncertain of new tastes and textures, an evolutionary mechanism designed to keep us safe from danger.
Fussy eating is also part of children’s development. It’s a way of exploring their environment and asserting their independence. Growth too slows in the second year of life, correspondingly their appetites go up and down depending on how much they’ve grown and how active they are.
It can be common for children to refuse food if they have been drinking too much milk, their mood –for instance when feeling tired, sick or upset, daily activity patterns, and/or illness.
How to get fussy eaters to eat
1. Make mealtimes fun and present food attractively: Try to make the food interesting. Offer a range of colourful foods and shapes on the plate.
2. Offer healthy foods repeatedly and regularly. Research shows children need to be presented with food 10-15 times before it looks safe enough to eat.
3. Give plenty of praise when they try new food! Even a gold star chart for children over 3.
4. Support your child’s need for independence: Let them make some choices. Limit the options to 2-3 things. 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?”
5. Encourage self-feeding from a young age: Let your child feed themselves with a mixture of finger foods and mixed textured foods, requiring a fork and spoon.
6. Don’t heap food onto your child’s plate: Have realistic expectations of how much they will eat. Children have small stomachs about the size of your clenched fist.
7. Set a time limit of about 20 minutes for meals. 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.
8. Try to ignore fussy eating as much as you can: Sometimes children are seeking a big reaction and your attention. Keep calm and concentrate on making them enjoyable occasions.
9. Try not to pressure, force or trick your child into eating. Avoid punishments or bribes.
10. Be a good role model. Eat a wide variety of foods yourself and eat with your child.
A healthy child will never go hungry, and if they are energetic enough and thriving, they’re likely eating enough. Remember food refusal is normal and common and often a passing phase.
This information has been provided as general advice only. If you are concerned about your child’s nutrition or eating habits, always consult your GP, pediatrician, or Healthcare Professional.
This article was written by Parents You've Got This Dietitian Expert Shae Rickards from Bellamy's Organic. Shae Rickards presents on fussy eating and the toddler diet at Parents You've Got This Toddler Masterclass.