There are times when our children have refused to eat at their dinner, sometimes more than others. They have told us that they didn’t like the food and pushed the plate away. As a parent, this is stressful. We worry that our children are not eating enough or not eating the right foods. We can have our own feelings of frustration too for the time and money spent on a meal, only for it to be discarded.

Our Top Tips for Fussy Eaters

Here are some of the things we have tried as a family to try and navigate those challenging meal times when little ones decide they just don’t want to eat.

Always try to include safe food on the plate. A portion of safe food means food that you know that your child likes and will happily eat. We don’t want any children going hungry. Safe food means there will always be something they can eat when they are not sure of new foods.

If your child has not eaten their safe food you could either offer a boring alternative such as porridge or plain cottage cheese. Alternatively, keep their meal and when they’re hungry again offer it back to them.

Expose your child to a wide range of food of all colours and textures and offer fruit or vegetables with every meal. Exposure to these foods could just mean tolerating new food on the plate and not eating it. Eventually, that tolerance will gradually grow to a nibble and a bite. Remember this can be a slow process, so persevere.

For young children, you could try introducing messy play with food. Try a tray of coloured cooked spaghetti or spaghetti hoops or dyed rice with some little toys to create imaginative play scenes. This will help children explore the textures and smell of the food without the pressure of having to eat it.

Trust your child when they say they are full. Instead of saying one more bite please, say I can see you are finished eating. This will help them to know what being full feels like and to not overeat. They also won’t feel the need to eat past their fullness to gain our praise.

Avoid snacks before mealtimes. If your child is very hungry and dinner is taking longer than expected, why not try giving them a piece of fruit or some chopped vegetables. In this situation, we have offered fruit that we would have given after dinner as a pudding. Instead of your child eating additional food before the meal they are eating the food they would have had anyway but in a different order.

Try serving the food on a plate with different sections and place each different type of food in its own section. Sometimes presenting food separately and not touching other food can make it more appealing or tolerable to some children.

Explore presenting the food in different fun ways. Use a cookie cutter in interesting shapes like a star or heart on slices of cucumber or carrot. Try a sandwich cutter in a shape that will appeal to your child, such as a dinosaur. Create 2D or 3D pictures or characters with the food e.g. a pancake bear or a grape caterpillar. Pinterest has a treasure trove of fun food ideas such as this.

Plan your meals and get your children involved. Ask them to choose a recipe from a cookbook you have chosen. Plan in some meals that the children can help to make, such as pizzas. You could even try taking your child to a cooking class, they are growing in popularity for children. Giving ownership of the meal to your children can mean they are much more likely to try the new dish.

Always keep in mind that children go through several important developmental stages and phases. Remember that this is not a permanent situation. Suspicion and a reluctance to eat new foods can be a natural instinctive response for young children. Back in the caveman times, this instinct would have saved lives, as children avoided dangerous berries or plants.

Above all, if you have tried different things and you are concerned that your child is not eating enough, trust your instincts and consult your doctor or a qualified dietician or nutritionist for advice.

What have you tried to help your fussy eater at home? If you have tips of your own to share we would love to hear them. We are always keen to learn new ways to help our own fussy eaters.