Pregnancy and baby

Fussy eaters

How do I manage a fussy eater? (18 to 30 months)

Media last reviewed: 22/04/2015

Next review due: 22/04/2017

It's natural for parents to worry about whether their child is getting enough food, especially if they refuse to eat sometimes.

The trick is not to worry about what your child eats in a day, or if they don't eat everything at mealtimes. It's more important to think about what they eat over a week.

As long as your child is active and gaining weight, and it's obvious they're not ill, then they’re getting enough to eat, even if it may not seem like it to you.

It’s perfectly normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or even taste new foods.

Providing your child eats some food from the four main food groups (milk and dairy products, starchy foods, fruit and vegetables, protein), even if it’s always the same favourites, you don't need to worry. Gradually introduce other foods or go back to the foods your child didn’t like before and try them again.

The best way for your child to learn to eat and enjoy new foods is to copy you. Try to eat with them as often as you can so that you can set a good example.

Tips for parents of fussy eaters

  • Give your child the same food as the rest of the family, but remember not to add salt to your child's food. Check the label of any food product you use to make family meals. See more about food labelling.
  • Eat your meals together if possible.
  • Give small portions and praise your child for eating, even if they only manage a little.
  • If your child rejects the food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take the food away without comment. Try to stay calm even if it’s very frustrating.
  • Don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat.
  • Your child may be a slow eater so be patient.
  • Don’t give too many snacks between meals. Limit them to a milk drink and some fruit slices or a small cracker with a slice of cheese, for example.
  • It’s best not to use food as a reward. Your child may start to think of sweets as nice and vegetables as nasty. Instead, reward them with a trip to the park or promise to play a game with them.
  • Children sometimes get thirst and hunger mixed up. They might say they’re thirsty when really they’re hungry.
  • Make mealtimes enjoyable and not just about eating. Sit down and chat about other things.
  • If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, ask them round for tea. A good example can work well, as long as you don’t talk too much about how good the other children are.
  • Ask an adult that your child likes and looks up to to eat with you. Sometimes a child will eat for someone else, such as a grandparent, without any fuss.
  • Children’s tastes change. One day they’ll hate something, but a month later they may love it.
  • Changing the form a food comes in may make it more acceptable. For example, a child might refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw, grated carrot.

It's particularly important for picky eaters to have children's vitamin drops until the age of five.

Further information

Page last reviewed: 07/05/2015

Next review due: 07/05/2017


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