You’ve spent ages in the kitchen, making the best possible meal, only for your little one to reject it.
This is a scenario most parents are familiar with – but this doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Food refusal is a normal part of a child’s development.
Fear of new foods is usually at its highest around 2 years of age.
How you respond to your little one refusing food can make a big difference in setting up healthy food habits and managing fussy eating.
Whatever your little one’s age, here are some top tips for fussy eaters!
Just like with sleep, having a good routine with food can make a big difference.
Children find it easier to eat when they know what to expect. This also helps to manage snacking!
Playing with food
We’re all told to not play with our food but actually, it can help your little one build positive associations with the right kinds of food – letting your child get messy, especially as a toddler at meal times can be good fun!
As your little one gets older allowing them to get involved in the cooking/preparing of the meal will get them excited to eat them.
If your little one snacks throughout the day, it’s unlikely they’ll then want to eat their dinner. Experts suggest a two snacks maximum – one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon.
Studies show that children need to be offered a food item up to 15 times before they try it out.
So, it’s important to keep trying to introduce new foods. Stopping to offer the things your little one doesn’t eat straight away will only reinforce them that it’s probably not good.
Food bribery may work in the short term but in the long term, it will reinforce that veggies are bad and pudding is good.
Try thinking of non-food rewards for reinforcing positive behaviours (click here for our parent guide to supporting positive behaviours).
After 6 months, milk alone isn’t enough to provide your child with the nutrients they need.
Some children prefer to drink than eat so if they're filling up with drinks (like milk and smoothies) they won't have room left for food.
Limiting the amount of drinks (other than water) can help encourage your little one’s appetite.
Be a positive role model
Children learn by example. If you’re a picky eater and prefer pudding over fruit and veg then your little one will see that as the norm.
Research shows that children eat more fruit and vegetables when their parents do the same!
Also, remember to not make negative comments about food – if you hate mushrooms your child doesn’t need to hear about it.
Many parents are surprised when they see the recommended portion sizes for children – so maybe they might not need as much as you are serving.
For fussy children, it's generally a good idea to serve a small amount of food, they can always have seconds if they want.
Click here for a full portion guide.
Easier said than done but it’s best to try and stay calm during mealtimes.
A child who feels stressed is less likely to eat and a little one who is pressured to eat more is likely to develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
Encourage them to try new things but accept it if they don’t want to – just remove the food without making a big deal.
It’s also beneficial to think of the balance of your child's diet over a whole week rather than what they have or haven’t eaten in one meal.