Top Tips for Fussy Eaters

Many children become fussy with food, often starting a long-term battle for parents. However, all is not lost! There are many ways you can help encourage your child to eat a nutritious and varied diet and develop a positive relationship with food.

Lead by example

The way parents talk about food and the types of foods they choose to eat are the most important influences on a child’s eating habits. 

Children learn by example and love to copy, so it’s crucial to practice what you preach consciously. Why would your child eat leafy greens and oily fish if you don’t? If parents don’t force their children, usually children have (in the end) similar preferences to their parents. 

Top Tips for Fussy Eaters - Teladoc Health UK

  • Try to eat together as much as possible. Children often try new and unusual foods off your plate rather than their own because the pressure is off.
  • When eating around your child, try to eat across all food groups to encourage variety (and avoid beige foods!). If you make poor choices, your child will be encouraged to do the same.
  • Don’t give any attention to food refusal. Instead, focus on people around the table who are eating well and discuss aspects of the meal that were particularly enjoyed. It may take time, but your child will eventually realise they will get more attention from eating well than being fussy.


Increase Exposure

Parents have an essential role in increasing a child’s familiarity with fruits and vegetables – not only at mealtimes but in various settings. The aim is to make these a familiar part of everyday life, not just a dreaded moment at the table. 

Keep At It

Studies show that children are born with an innate fondness for sweet foods and less of a preference for bitter or sour foods. This is perfectly normal but not permanent. To help override this response, it’s essential to repeatedly expose children to flavours that they are naturally wary of, rather than only offering them the less flavoursome foods they like to eat. 

  • A child can take around 11 times (or many more!) to try a new food. Don’t give up. If your child rejects broccoli but is never offered it again, they will never learn to like it.
  • Many eating ‘problems’ are purely due to unrealistic expectations regarding appropriate portions/appetite at a particular age. Don’t worry about amounts – offer small portions and encourage children to go for seconds if they are still hungry.
  • Don’t always plate up their food for them; put it on the table and let them pick food for their own plate. This helps the child retain some control – you choose WHAT is on offer, they decide HOW MUCH to eat. Serve foods you know they like (as well as new foods) and let them choose.


Keep Calm & Carry On

The key to raising a successful future eater is to avoid tension at the dinner table. Acceptance and patience are key. Whatever you do, avoid allowing mealtimes to become a battle. 

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When parents try to force-feed their children, usually children will grow to dislike that food. And since parents generally insist on more” healthy” foods, teenagers and young adults often learn to prefer the most unhealthy options via this method. It comes from a good place but is often hugely problematic in the long term (often for a single bite of broccoli in the short term!). Remaining calm in the face of food refusal is challenging but worth it.

  • Try to think about this from your child’s perspective. How would you like it if you were never allowed to control your own portion size and made-to-eat things you didn’t like? Or were you bribed, threatened, or cajoled into finishing a plate of food you weren’t enjoying? 
  • The key to a child developing a long-term, healthy relationship with food is understanding and accepting that they should eat because they want to and for no other reason. As frustrating and wasteful as this feels (and it does)
  • If foods are refused, avoid making an alternative meal. Set this boundary and hold to it – let your child experience frustration and anger, but don’t punish them for this. If a meal is refused, it’s best to clear it away after 20 minutes (or after you’ve finished) and put it in the fridge to try again later.
  • Offer balanced snacks outside of meal times that you know they will eat so your child won’t ever have to go too long without fuel.
  • Don’t panic. There are natural changes in food preferences over a lifetime, and between one and 16 years old, most children will prefer macaroni to vegetables. It is normal, and it will pass. The way you respond to it is more important in the long term. 



You can read this case study or watch the video: “My two-year-old is eating again,thanks to this service.”

Author: Sarah West, Head of Nutrition, Teladoc Health UK


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