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Children and fussy eating

Find out why your child is a fussy eater and what you can do to help them eat properly.

Fussy, faddy and picky eating is a phase when your child doesn't eat well or refuses to eat certain foods.

This is a part of growing up, but it can be worrying for parents.

Things to try to stop fussy eating

Make sure your child doesn't have drinks or snacks close to mealtimes.

Encourage your child to touch, smell or taste their food. Eat with them as often as possible and praise them when they eat well. Make positive comments about the food.

To help your child to eat well:

  • involve your child in preparing and cooking
  • offer a variety of foods
  • include your child's favourites foods
  • give your child smaller portions – if they finish, praise them and offer more
  • let your child eat food first and give them the drink at the end of the meal
  • limit distractions, turn off the television, tablet or phone

Finish the meal after about 30 minutes and accept that is all your child is going to eat. Take away uneaten food without comment.

Avoid dinner time battles

Do not force your child to eat or use food or sweets as a reward or punishment. This can often lead to unhealthy associations with food.

Eat with other children of a similar age if possible. Seeing other children eating healthy foods can encourage a child to try these foods.

Try to focus on the good things they are doing, such as trying a new food, even touching it to start. Lead by example by eating healthier options.

Ignore the fussy behaviour, lots of attention may make them keep it up.

If you have another child who is eating well or sitting the right way, give them the plenty of praise.

Causes of fussy eating

Your child may be:

  • unwell
  • recovering from being unwell
  • eating too many snacks between meals
  • drinking too much milk or other drinks
  • showing their independent streak

It can take up to 10 to 15 tries before your child will accept a new food.

Track your child's eating

Children's appetites are not all the same.

Track your child's eating by:

  • making a list of all the food your child eats over a week
  • reviewing the list
  • checking to see if there are foods from the 4 main food groups

If there are foods from the 4 main food groups, and there is some variety in each group, your child's diet is probably okay.

If the fussy eating continues, ask for advice from your public health nurse, doctor, practice nurse or pharmacist.

Related topic

Healthy eating for families

page last reviewed: 15/03/2018
next review due: 15/03/2021