How to reduce meal time stress with fussy eaters

Are  you fed up with meal times and worried that your child is a fussy eater?  Fussy eating is one of most common concerns of parents with one in two children considered fussy or picky eaters.

It is completely normal especially in toddler years for your child to start refusing foods.  One reason for this is changes in their appetite. Whilst you may be worried your child is not eating enough toddlers and young children are very good at working out what they need. They have an in-built hunger alert and satiety mechanism so this means they will eat when they are hungry and stop eating or refuse food when they are full.

Appetite will also vary from day to day so it is normal for them to eat more food one day and less the next.  If you are still concerned, one of the best indicators that they are getting enough food is their growth.  If their growth is still tracking normally then there is generally no need to worry.  It is also important to be aware that toddlers like to be independent and they learn from testing the boundaries. So if they refuse a food this does not automatically mean that they dislike the food.

Whilst fussy eating can be very stressful here are some strategies that can help reduce fussy eating:

  • Encourage regular meals and snacks as toddlers and children like routine and structure.
  • Set time limits for meals and snacks such as 20-30 minutes for main meals and 15-20 minutes for snacks.
  • Make meal times a happy family occasion where you all sit down together at the table to enjoy the meal.
  • Serve toddlers and children the same food that the rest of the family are eating but in a smaller portion size. Give praise when they eat their meal or try a new food.
  • Ensure positive role-modelling as toddlers and children will learn off you and their siblings. Offer a wide variety of nutritious food and always use positive language when talking about food such as ‘ This broccoli is so yummy?’
  • Allow toddlers and young children to make some decisions to help support their need for independence. Whilst you can decide what, when and where your child eats let them decide how much they eat. It can also be useful letting them to choose between two foods that may be served. For example “Would you like pear or apple today?”
  • If your child is fussing about food, ignore it as much as you can as giving fussy eating too much attention can lead to them acting out more frequently.
  • Offer new foods when both you and your child are relaxed. Avoid distractions such as the television on in the background.
  • When offering new foods serve a small amount with a food that they already know and like.
  • Keep offering foods as it can take up to 10-15 times for them to accept and like a new food. If your child refuses a food give it another go in a week.
  • Encourage your toddler to touch and play with their food as this helps them to become more familiar with the food. If you are worried about mess all over the floor, drop an old sheet under their high chair.
  • If your child loses interest or becomes tired or cranky take the food away and remove them from the table.


We know this is easier said then done. Have you tried these tips and are still concern? Come talk to our paediatric dietitian Melinda Braithwaite. Call 1300 318 817 or book online.