Healthy eating isn’t just about the food children eat. It is also about behaviour around eating. It is normal for children to refuse to eat or taste new foods.
Fussy eating is common. Children can be fussy about what or how they eat. They can refuse to eat certain foods, eat a very limited range of food or refuse to eat at all.
Think about what your child eats over a week. Don’t worry about what they eat in a day or a meal. If your child is active, gaining weight and is well they are getting enough to eat.
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What can I do?
Do not worry if your child refuses something to eat. Adults can create fussy children because we over interpret likes and dislikes. Children cannot make real choices before they reach 4 to 5 years old.
Keep giving your child a variety of foods. It can take up to 15 attempts for your child to accept some foods. Gradually introduce foods and keep going back to the foods they did not like before. Children’s tastes change.
As long as your child eats some food from all the main food groups (fruit and vegetables, dairy, proteins and carbohydrates) you do not need to worry. There is information about what to feed young children.
Offer them what you expect them to eat. If they choose not to eat it don’t be tempted to offer something else. They will eat when they are hungry.
Tips that may help
- Give your child the same meal as the rest of the family. Make sure they have an appropriately sized portion and do not add salt to their meal.
- Eat together as a family. The best way for your child to learn is to copy you.
- Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Chat about other things.
- Focus on minimising distractions (phones, toys, pets) during mealtimes so your child can really concentrate on the food.
- It is important to encourage your child to feed themselves (finger foods or spoon foods).
- Don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
- Keep trying with new foods and offer them in different ways (for example offering carrot cooked, uncooked, grated, or mixed in a sauce).
- Your child may be a slow eater. Be patient.
- Get your child involved in preparing and cooking meals.
- Praise your child when they try something new.
- Aim for no more than two healthy snacks a day.
- If food is uneaten do not force them to eat it. Just take it away without saying anything. Try to stay calm.
- Don’t use food as a reward. Instead reward them with an outing, like a trip to the park, a sticker book or reading book.