Fussy Eating in Children – Creating a Good Food Environment

It can be super frustrating (and a little worrying) when your child frequently refuses particular foods and meals. Fussy eating in children, particularly young children, is common. Young children are still exploring and learning about new foods and learning what they do and don’t have control over (cue the toddler tantrums).


I often hear parents say their child eats well at nursery or with the childminder but not at home. What is different within these childcare settings compared to at home? Can we learn from the childcare food environment to reduce fussy eating in children?


Here are a few things to consider;


  1. Reduce the pressure around eating. Try your best not to persuade or overly encourage your child to eat particular foods or meals. You have control over the foods you offer your child, let them decide how much of the foods offered they would like to eat. Mealtimes should be an enjoyable, stress-free experience for everyone. This is probably one of the reasons why some young children eat well at nursery but not at home. At nursery, do they insist on children eating a few more mouthfuls? Do they keep waving a loaded spoon near their mouth until they finally relent and open it? Do they use distraction to sneak in a few more mouthfuls? Probably not! They are more likely to be left to get on with it, helping only when a child can’t get the food onto their spoon!
  2. Making mealtimes a sociable occasion. Within childcare settings, children eat together. It is a sociable occasion which is enjoyable for the children. When possible, at home, eat together and keep your child company at the table. If you prefer to eat at different times, consider eating a smaller snack-sized version of their meal or sit with a cup of tea. Don’t let the food be the focus of the conversation all the time, chat about the day, plans for the week etc. Why not invite one of your child’s friends around for lunch or afternoon tea (particularly if the friend is a good eater).
  3. Serve the same meal to everyone at the table. In my experience, fussy eating in children is less obvious in childcare settings when the setting provides the meals. Why is this? Most likely because all the children are eating the same food. Peer pressure is a great thing when it comes to trying new foods. If they see their friend eating and enjoying the food, then it can encourage them to eat it. If hot meals are given, the smell may fill the room, increasing the desire to eat too. At home, try to serve the same food to everyone at the table. If you are catering for different dietary needs / allergies, can you slightly vary the same meal? The important thing is that the meals look similar.
  4. Try not to use bribery. In childcare settings, it is unlikely that puddings are used as a form of bribery to get children to eat their main course. Most settings will offer pudding regardless of whether the child has touched their main course. Fussy eating in children may be made worse if puddings are used as a form of bribery. It puts the sweeter foods on a pedestal and can make the savoury foods more undesirable to a child. At home, you could consider serving the pudding (such as fruit) together with the savoury food for the child to eat when they want to. You may be surprised to find they don’t always go for the sweeter foods first! Or keep it separate but don’t use it to bribe your child and still offer it if the main course wasn’t eaten. Opt for healthier puddings, based on fruit or dairy, as this is another opportunity to get some nutrients in.


These are just some tips to help manage fussy eating in children. If you would like some personalised advice and action plan to help get your child back on track with their eating, get in touch.

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