When Fussy Eating Strikes

By Emma Thomas


‘Fussy eating’ is a normal part of child development, but it can be something which is so challenging for us as parents! One week your child loves bananas, the next week they are going brown in the fruit bowl. They’ll eat chicken on a sandwich, but not on a wrap. Or suddenly all vegetables are off limits! Dinner might even turn into more of a sensory activity than a time to consume calories. Most children go through periods of ‘fussiness’ or times when they are off their food. 

I’ve rounded up some of my favourite ideas for what to do when fussy eating strikes. I hope that some of them can help you. 

1. Become gardeners!

Although gardening seems like a completely separate activity to meal times I have often seen children happily eating vegetables straight from their garden. There is something special about being involved in the growing process and the expectation that comes with waiting for the produce to ripen. I love this article  from nutritionist Jenny Friedman. Jenny talks about how gardening can increase children’s comfort with new foods and build their curiosity at the same time! The garden also provides a low stakes environment where children can try new foods without the pressure which can be associated with meal times. Not to mention that gardening together can be fun, reduce stress and promote a positive attitude towards food for the whole family. And there’s no need to call in the professional landscapers – you can easily start with a few pots of cherry tomatoes or herbs. Or maybe try some strawberry plants in a front garden! 

2. Have your child join you in the kitchen!

Cooking with children can be great fun, as long as you’ve done a little pre-planning. Bake muffins together, get their help washing vegetables or let them use a child-safe knife to help with cutting. Having children in the kitchen can be messy but it is so worth it for the rewards that come. My husband is extremely patient with my 3.5 year old in the kitchen and has taught her to make pancakes, even letting her pour and flip them! 

3. Create consistent and enjoyable mealtimes routines.

Even the youngest children can help to choose cutlery, plates, bowls and cups and set them on the table. Take a cue from your favourite restaurants – do you like sitting outside? Do candles, flowers or fairy lights make the table more inviting? You can even enjoy handwashing together by singing songs or making ‘bubble gloves’ for your hands. 

4. Check your timing.

If you are having trouble with mealtimes dragging on, try setting a time limit, usually 20 minutes is a good start. Use a visual timer (either a sand timer or a digital timer) and make sure your child knows that the food will be packed away when the timer goes off. Then there will be more food available at the next meal time. Also aim for consistency with the timing of meals and snacks. We don’t want our children to be grazing all day, but we also don’t want them to get ‘hangry’ (hungry and angry!). 

5. Accept the feelings.

Sometimes our little ones have big feelings about food and mealtimes. As adults it is our job to decide on our family rules (when food is available and what food is available) and it is our children’s job to decide if and how much they want to eat. When our children are unhappy with our choices they might express this – loudly! If we can remain calm and allow them to feel their feelings, they will usually pass quickly. 

6. Provide safe foods and be consistent with offering new (or disliked) foods.

My toddler currently is refusing broccoli (despite it being one of his favs a few months ago). I really want to stop putting it on his plate because it seems like a waste – however, if it’s not on his plate how will he ever try it! Each mealtime I  make sure that there is something my children like to eat. I serve everyone the same food and remind them that they can leave things they don’t feel like on their plate. I’m also trying to teach them to say ‘I don’t feel like broccoli tonight’ instead of ‘I hate broccoli!’.

Here is some further reading if you’re interested!