Top 8 tips for fussy eaters (children/toddlers)
Mealtimes can be a challenge when toddlers or children start eating meals like the rest of the family. If you are struggling with a fussy eater (which, is very normal!, here are some of our top tips to help you along the way!
1. Think about portion sizes.
Children and toddlers are good at regulating how much they need to be eating, and they will tell you when they are hungry or full. Adding too many foods on a plate, especially new ones, can be overwhelming and isn’t likely to go down well! Instead, offer smaller portions, and alongside foods they do enjoy (1). This will reduce the pressure on the child or toddler to feel like they need to consume everything. Encourage them to try the food and if they do not like it or don’t want more, respect that choice in this case and do not force it – this may change in the future!
2. Offer variety.
Try to introduce your child to a range of foods with different textures, colours and flavours. This will expand their palate and they may like something in a different way to how they tried it before! (2) For example, if they say no to steamed broccoli, try in a mash or blended into a pasta sauce.
3. Repeat foods again and again… and again.
It is very normal for children to take multiple attempts at trying new foods, before they grow to like it. So don’t give up! Repeated exposure perhaps every few weeks to a month can be a great way for them to grow to like a good.
4. Keep positive.
Although we understand it can be upsetting and frustrating when managing fussy eaters, try not to show it. As this will only create negative associations with mealtimes for the children (3).
5. Set an example.
If a child sees you and the family eating the food that they are given, they are more likely to try that food. So be sure to make it clear that this isn’t just for them, but food to benefit the entire family! Show enthusiasm for the foods they are trying and eat a variety, which can encourage them to mirror your choices. Sitting together as a family if possible will also help, as well as reducing distractions such as tv or phones.
6. Do not use food as a reward.
Although it is tempting and natural to want to bribe a child, this then makes children think of certain foods they are being bribed to eat such as vegetables as the non-appealing thing they need to eat in order to get the reward. And usually, this reward is a higher fat or sugar item. Research shows that parents who use food as a reward (or punishment), their children are more likely to prefer higher fat and sugar foods, and may develop issues with eating later down the line (4).
7. Maintain a routine.
Try to have a routine of three meals a day with snacks if needed, at similar times. This will help the child regulate their appetite (5). Do not offer too many snacks in the day, as this can then fill up the child so that they will be less likely to want to eat a main meal. Try where possible to have your child sit in the same place and with a calm atmosphere around them, so that they feel comfortable and familiar.
8. Sneaking in vegetables.
If your child or toddler has a particular dislike to certain foods and you are concerned for their nutritional status, how about adding them into their diet in certain ways they may not realise? Such as a smoothie using berries or banana if they like these, and then add in some avocado for healthy fats, or yoghurt for protein? Or with a tomato-based pasta sauce, blending in courgette, cauliflower, broccoli etc, they won’t be able to tell once it’s all smooth! Make carrot chips nice and crispy, to go alongside regular potato chips.
We hope you find these tips helpful! For more extreme fussy eating, reach out to a paediatric dietitian in our team today!
- Safefood, 2023. Children’s portion sizes. [Online] Available at: https://www.safefood.net/family-health/kids-portion-sizes
- NHS, 2023. Fussy eaters. [Online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/weaning-and-feeding/fussy-eaters/
- Heary, C., Kelly, C. & Wolstenholme, H., 2019. Fussy eating behaviours: Response patterns in families of school-aged children. Appetite, Volume 136, pp. 93-102.
- Puhl, R. M. & Schwartz, M. B., 2003. If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors. Eating Behaviours, 4(3).
- NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 2021. Fussy Eaters Information Sheet. [Online] Available at: https://www.nhsggc.org.uk/kids/resources/ot-activityinformation-sheets/fussy-eaters/#:~:text=Routine%20and%20Structure,Have%20regular%20meal&text=You%20want%20to%20discourage%20’grazing,longer%20than%2020%2D30%20minutes.