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Fussy Eating

Fussy eating (also known as a picky eating or selective eating) is common in young children.

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Fussy eating (also known as a picky eating or selective eating) is common in young children. Sometimes it might be certain types of food; other times it might seem like they hardly want to eat at all. This can feel like a real challenge, but most children given the right conditions and support, will get through it in the end.

First, rule out issues that can contribute to poor eating, such as decayed teeth, sore gums, acid reflux (indigestion), cough, allergies, enlarged tonsils, digestive problems, and parasites. Speak to the health visitor or the GP for advice.  

Do NOT force the child to eat under any circumstances. Instead, try to create an environment where the child or young person feels comfortable with what they are eating before encouraging them to try different foods/eat more.  You need to consider how food looks, the environment in which food is offered, the smell, texture, portion size as well as taste.   Follow these key tips below to tackle fussy eating behaviour.


It often takes as many as 10-15 careful introductions to a new food before a child will eat it

The standard advice of 10-15 introductions to a new food may need to be multiplied for a child with a difficult upbringing. It’s okay if the new food just sits on the child’s plate. This will give the child a chance to touch and smell the food. Helping with meal preparation will give children and young people further chances to explore new foods. Eating may come later.

Sit at the table together for family mealtimes as often as possible

Children are more likely to eat if they see others doing the same. That is especially true when they are fed in the presence of other children who are eating, and is often how they acquire a liking for a new food.

Use 'taste plates' or 'no thank you plates.'

Try offering picky eaters a special 'taste plate' next to their regular plate. Put the foods the child enjoys on her/his regular plate, and small amounts of new foods (like those others are eating at the table) on the 'taste plate.' Don’t put expectations on the child of actually tasting foods on the 'taste plate.' Let them explore at her/his own pace.

Increase the child’s appetite

Children and young people are more likely to eat if they are hungry. Try these techniques to increase their appetite:

  • encourage children to be active before meal times – if possible, time outside in the fresh air stimulates the appetite
  • encourage children to have space between foods and not to snack all day
  • offer several smaller meals throughout the day rather than three larger meals
  • follow a routine for meal times and bedtime
  • if the child tends to fill up on fluids, offer water at the middle or end of a meal

Hold the praise

Lots of praise for trying new foods or finishing a meal can actually backfire. If the child realises how important his eating is to you, they may use it to gain the upper hand at mealtimes.  Gentle encouragement is best when children first start trying new foods and as the range of foods they eat grows, praise should have less significance.  

Develop a taste for food

A gradual approach to introduction of textures and tastes allows children space to process new foods, and is also the safest way to monitor possible allergic reactions. Try adding a small amount of a new texture to a preferred texture (for example, dip a favourite crunchy chip into some soft hummus). If the small amount is accepted, add slightly more each time the preferred food is offered. The same can be done with new flavours. Remember that children’s tastes change. Use the phrase 'It’s alright if you don’t like it today' and try to offer it again in the near future.

'Always experiment with different foods. It is amazing what they like, even if they think they won’t.'
Roger, Grantham

Listen & communicate

Listen to what children request when it comes to serving their food. Some children don’t like different parts of the meal touching other parts, some prefer to have food that they can see clearly (for example, not covered in sauce or gravy), and some may prefer certain food items on separate plates and bowls.

Make food fun

It’s good to make mealtimes fun. You don’t need to spend hours making vegetables look like flowers, but being positive and capturing their imaginations really helps.

'Just be daft and say things like "Look at me eat this tree!" (with broccoli) or "How many peas can I stick on my fork?"
Carl, Nottingham

Above recommendations are adapted from

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