Fussy eating

It is quite normal for an infant or child to refuse a food occasionally. However, if a child continually refuses food, the parent or guardian should be informed. If a child refuses a snack or meal, gently encourage them to eat. If they refuse to eat even after gentle encouragement, the "Nutrition matters for the early years: Guidance for feeding under-fives in the childcare setting" booklet has a few helpful tips:

  • Remove the food without making a fuss or passing judgement and offer food at the next meal or snack time.
  • Keeping your attitude friendly and relaxed will help children to feel that eating is a pleasurable way to satisfy hunger rather than a battleground.
  • Small helpings may be better accepted. Second helpings can then be offered if appropriate.
  • Do not try to bribe children to eat food they do not want with the reward of a pudding or sweet snack.
  • It may be useful to adopt the approach that a food refused is "not liked today". If a food is refused, try it again a few days later; changing the form a food is given in may make it more acceptable (E.g. offering tinned tomato in Bolognese sauce instead of tomato sauce on a pizza).
  • Consider possible reasons for the food refusal, such as drinking continually throughout the day, or frequent large snacks between meals, as both of these can reduce the appetite for main meals.
  • Never force a child to eat

safefood also provide a simple list ​of the most important Dos and Don’ts to help overcome fussy eaters.

Be inventive - use an ice tray and put different bite size foods in each section.


Do Not

Limit a child’s milk to 1 pint/day.

Leave the drink to the end of a meal.

Allow a child to fill up on milk, juice or fizzy drinks before or after meals.

Allow a child to drink water when thirsty.

Offer an alternative when a meal is refused.

Make a fuss when a meal is refused.

Give excessive praise when meals are eaten.

Offer new and previously refused foods every few days.

Assume if it is refused today, it will be refused for life.

Give choice between 2 non-favourite foods.

Give choice between 1 liked and 1 disliked foods.

Offer 3 meals & 3 snacks a day.

Go for long periods without food.

Limit meal times to 30 mins and snacks 15 mins.

Have long drawn out meals.

Follow child with food when they leave the table.

Eat with children, and make mealtimes a happy family occasion.

Let children eat on their own.

Make fun food when time allows e.g. milkshakes, banana splits.

Involve children in baking.


Keep a list of foods children will eat and add the new foods in a formal fashion.

Allow your frustration to become obvious.

Buy individually wrapped food e.g. yoghurts, cereals & crackers.

Reading a story at meal times can serve as a distraction so a child “forgets” about his/her food fad.

Allow children to eat while watching television as a distraction tool.

For more information, check out safefood's Life Stages page.


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