Being a fussy eater is normal in young children but can be worrying for parents. As long as your child is growing and developing healthily, then they're eating enough.
Don't be alarmed – it is completely normal for your toddler to let you know the foods they like and dislike. You might have to offer your child a new food 8 to 15 times before they will try eating it.
Let your child choose the amount of food they eat and try to make mealtimes fun and relaxing rather than stressful or rushed.
Talk with your GP if you are worried about your child’s fussy eating or if your child is failing to thrive.
Fussy? Or just not hungry?
Like most adults, children will have more of an appetite – and eat with more gusto – when they are hungry. Parents sometimes give their children food and drinks too regularly, which can lead to their child always feeling full and not experiencing the feeling of 'being hungry'.
To help your child have a good appetite at mealtimes:
- Try not to offer snacks right before their main meals: children need a gap of around 1–2 hours without eating to make sure they're hungry for their next meal.
- Drinking too much milk can also make children full, so they may not eat as much food. To avoid this, children should have no more than 500-600ml of milk each day.
- If your child asks for food but doesn’t appear hungry, try to distract them – keep them busy with something else e.g. ask if they'd like to play a game outside.
How much do children eat? And how often?
Children should have 3 main meals a day, including a small snack between each meal. Offer your child lots of healthy foods and let them choose what they would like to eat and how much they want to eat.
Tips for meal times
- Eat as a family at the table and eat healthy foods that you would like your child to eat and turn off technology (phones, TV, tablets, etc) – – kids like to copy what dad and mum do.
- Regularly offer your child a few foods that they decline (including new foods) – as it can take them a while to properly try the foods and begin to like them. Don’t bribe, be pushy or hassle! Instead – praise your child for trying the new food.
- Out of desperation, you may feel tempted to offer your child salty, sugary, and fatty foods, or more milk. But, remember if your child consumes too much of these foods – they will have less room in their stomachs for healthy foods.
Children have small stomachs and burn a lot of energy everyday. In-between meal times children need a few healthy snacks to keep them going. Avoid snacking just before main meals and limit sweet snacks and drinks as these contribute to obesity and tooth decay.
Try these healthy snacks:
- small sandwiches
Read more about healthy snacks for children.
Talk to your Well Child nurse or doctor if you are worried about your child’s fussy eating, or call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922.
Eating for healthy children aged 2-12 years HealthEd (Health Promotion Agency & Ministry of Health NZ)
Feeding your child – 1 year and over Ministry of Health NZ
Children's nutrition – 10 tips for picky eaters Mayo Clinic, USA, 2014
Being fussy about food – tips for parents SKIP, NZ
Helpful advice for years 1-5 – fussy or picky eating Ministry of Health NZ
Food & nutrition – fussy eating Plunket NZ
Picky eating during childhood: a longitudinal study to age 11 years Eating & Behaviour, 2010
Picky Eating in Children Frontiers in Pediatrics, 2015