Taking the pressure off feeding fussy eaters

Nina Tan
Time to read: 2 minutes

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child helping dad prepare for dinner

Is your child a fussy eater?  Does this cause stress at mealtimes? You are not alone!

Fussy eating is a normal part of children’s development as they learn about their environment, show some independence and learn about their appetite.

But feeding children doesn’t have to be a struggle. 

The idea of ‘Parents Provide, Children Decide’ allows kids to eat when they are hungry and say when they are full.

The parent’s job is to provide healthy food and the child’s job is to decide what and how much to eat. At the same time as helping children develop good eating habits for life, ‘Parents Provide, Children Decide’ allows parents to relax and trust their children’s appetite.

Parents are responsible for:

What their children are offered to eat

  • It’s important to offer a variety of healthy foods at each meal and snack time so children can choose what they would like to eat. 
  • Don’t make a separate meal for your children, include at least one food in the family meal that you know they will eat if they are hungry.

When they eat

  • Aim to serve 3 main meals and 2-3 snacks at roughly the same time each day, with only water to drink in between.
  • Young children have small stomachs, so they need to eat regularly. However, try to avoid having snacks close to a main meal, as hungry children are more likely to try new foods!

Where they eat

  • Having meals at the table, without distractions such as TV or phones, with as many family members as possible, is a lovely way to connect with your kids. 
  • Serving family meals ‘buffet style’, where food is served in the middle of the table so everyone can serve themselves, can help fussy eaters. It gives them control over what to eat rather than being overwhelmed by a plate full of food they are unsure of.

Children are responsible for:

What they want to eat

Let your child choose what they would like to eat from the foods you offer.

How much to eat

They can also decide how much to eat. Healthy children know if they are hungry and how much food they need. It’s normal for children’s appetites to be unpredictable. One day they might eat lots of food and the next not much – both are normal and OK. 

Take the pressure off:

Putting pressure on children to eat by bribing, pleading to ‘just try some’ and force feeding does not help overcome fussy eating. It can take more than 20 times of seeing a food before a child tries it.

What works is taking the pressure off and trusting your child’s appetite. This will also help your stress levels – imagine just serving the food and knowing your job is done. Be a good role model, relax and enjoy mealtimes.

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© Cancer Council NSW 2024 Head Office Address: 153 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011. Cancer Council NSW is registered with the Australian Taxation Office as an Income Tax Exempt Charity: Charitable Fundraising Authority No. 18521.

Some images on this site have been supplied by Cancer Council Western Australia's Crunch & Sip website

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