Tips for fussy eaters

Tips for fussy eaters

Establishing good eating behaviours in childhood is important for growth and development. It is common for children to go through phases where they refuse to try new foods. Don’t be discouraged, here’s some practical tips to help you through.

  • The early childcare setting is a great opportunity for trying new foods - share your successes with parents.
  • Be an enthusiastic role model – try different healthy foods together.
  • Create relaxed, happy meal times, compliment good eating behaviour rather than insisting children try foods.
  • Avoid offering dessert or other treat foods as a reward. This sends mixed messages that healthy foods are less interesting.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods and encourage children to serve themselves, choosing what goes on their plate and how much they eat.
  • Children are good at knowing when they are full – if we insist they ‘clean the plate’ this can override their natural feelings of fullness.
  • Involve children in every aspect of food preparation – menu planning, shopping, harvesting, cooking and serving. Not only will they want try new foods, but they will learn valuable skills for the future!
  • Encourage choice between foods but set limits for example, whether they would like A or B.
  • Keep trying! Learning to eat is a process, it can take 8-15 positive exposures for a child to accept a new food. Start with, ‘would you like to try?’ for unfamiliar foods.
  • Be mindful of liquids around meal times, too much can fill small tummies before eating. Offer milk after meals or with snacks.
  • Discuss strategies with whānau so everyone agrees on a consistent approach to trying new foods.  
  • Offer non-food rewards for good behaviour such as a trip to the park.

By providing a variety of healthy foods and allowing children to decide how much to eat, you are helping them build a positive relationship towards food. The ‘Division of Responsibility’ model suggests the adult is responsible for what to serve, and where and when to eat, but lets the child determine how much to eat of the foods they choose.

Remember – children may have varying appetites and different food preferences day to day. They may eat more or less at certain meals and during certain stages.  

Here’s some ideas to make food fun to eat:       

  • Cut fruit and veggies into finger sizes, use yoghurt and hummus for dipping.
  • Include a variety of colours, textures and shapes – a cookie cutter works well!
  • Offer food in child-sized portions – they can always ask for more.
  • Offer unfamiliar (or less-liked) food together with a favourite one.
  • Create imaginative names for foods – call broccoli ‘mini trees’ or ‘x-ray vision carrots'.

Download the tips sheet

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The Fuelled4life team.