Four Ways to Reduce Fussy Eating Away from the Dinner Table

Four Ways to Reduce Fussy Eating Away from the Dinner Table

It’s pretty common for children to go through a fussy eating period. In fact, it’s a normal protective process to become aware of what goes in the mouth. After all, it saved our ancestors from eating poisonous or unsafe foods.

For a range of reasons, some children do need more support to feel comfortable to try (and eat) a variety of foods (eventually).

What you can do as a parent or carer

Be patient

This can seem hard to do but research shows the more pressure or effort you put in to encourage your child to eat, the more likely it is to backfire. If you are worried about your child’s nutrition or growth remember:

  • To think about what your child eats overall in a week, not just at one meal or even one day.
  • Supplements or drinks are not always the answer and may increase fussiness. Find out more about supplement drinks

To talk to your child health nurse or GP about your specific concerns, as some children do need extra support.

Keep offering a variety of foods which your family eat and enjoy

This may mean thinking about how your offer and serve these foods. You may want to try:

  • Deconstructing meals for example instead of offering spaghetti Bolognese with a salad, offer the pasta and Bolognese sauce separately, and the lettuce, tomato, cucumber separately rather than mixed together. To find out more about the benefits of deconstructing meals
  • Planning your meals to include foods you enjoy and some you know your child does. Always include some food as part of meals (like side dishes) that everyone can eat, this may be rice, bread, fruit or cut up salad vegetables. To find out more about why cooking food you enjoy is important
  • Thinking about all meals and snacks as opportunities to try new foods (and in different ways for example cooked and uncooked vegetables).

Role model without fuss

This means eating with your children when possible, eating a variety of foods yourself and talking about all foods in a neutral way. For example swap saying things like “look mummy is enjoying this healthy apple, here have some” to “I am cutting up this fresh red apple for snack time, did you want to share it with me?” They don’t have to say yes.

Look for opportunities away from mealtimes to give your child an opportunity to engage with food

  • Cook, garden and shop with your child if you can. Remember your early education (eg local Child and Family Centre, Launch into Learning or Play Group) or your childcare service may also run food-based activities. Support your child to be part of these in whatever way they want.
  • Eat with people outside of your immediate family. Social events or eating out can be a way for children to be exposed to a range of foods. You may be surprised at what they may eat or try. Let them decide what and how much they eat. Some tips to be mindful when eating out with others
  • Fun story books about cooking food, eating and sharing meals can be a way to talk about food and variety without the pressure to try. For a list of books we suggest

Remember you know your own child’s abilities and where they are at

It’s not always helpful to compare what and how children are eating, even within families. All children are different and develop eating skills in different ways and rates. By reminding yourself what is your role and what is your child’s role, it takes the pressure off you and places trust in the child If you are worried seek the help you need. A good place to start is your child health nurse or GP.