Picky eaters – strategies and tips

Some sound bites of advice for parents of picky eaters who cook up a fuss

Battles at the dinner table are something most parents have, especially if your kids are fussy eaters.

Fiona Faulkner’s kids had horrendous meltdowns at meal times, and the British mum’s efforts to get them to enjoy a wide range of foods eventually led to her starting up a business called Toddler Chef.

Now she’s written a book – 25 Foods That Kids Hate …And How To Get Them Eating 24 – in which she shares her tips on how to make “yucky” foods appealing, and techniques to encourage kids to try new food.

She describes the book as “psychology meets gastronomy” and has compiled recipes that children can help to cook, as well as coming up with clever ideas parents can use to “market” foods like broccoli, spinach and lentils to their kids.

But first, she offers some rules that can help encourage kids to adopt good eating habits early so they’ll grow healthily.

Set aside the time

Good eating routines have to be learned, and therefore taught, says Fiona, and that takes time.**

Go shopping with the kids**

Involving your kids in some small way in grocery shopping is not only fun for them, you’ll also find it’s empowering. Give them choices and attempt to instil in them a sense of discovery and excitement.

Grow your own

You can’t beat the satisfaction of growing your own food, even if you just have a few pots.**

Relax – fussiness is a natural phase**

oost kids will go through a scientifically proven “fussy stage” around the 18-month-old mark. This is said to be linked to them gravitating towards a sense of independence and their awareness that they’re able to make choices for themselves – as well as get a reaction.

Neither reward nor punish with food

If you reward a child with something sweet because they have eaten something they find less palatable, it creates a sense that sweet food is good and the other is bad (or a punishment) – thus reinforcing the cycle of the child not wanting to eat anything other than sweet food.**


Research suggests a child needs to see a new food on average 20 times before they’ll want to try it. If they refuse a new food, don’t make a fuss or draw attention to it. If they insist on not having it on their plate, ask if they mind if oum or Dad have it instead, suggests Fiona. Then enthusiastically eat it, while being very vocal about how great it is – “ooh, thank you, that was delicious.”**

offer realistic portion sizes**

Little tummies only need small portions. It’s better to eat one spoonful of peas than none at all. Chop vegetables and meat down to small cubes or chunks – this really does help.**

Don’t eat every scrap**

By forcing kids to eat “every last scrap” you’re encouraging them to not only overeat – if they’re genuinely not hungry – but also asking them to ignore the vital “I’m full” signs from their brain. This can lead them to overeat later in life. Equally, try not to let your kids eat for emotional reasons, such as boredom or sadness.**

Encourage silly suppers**

When your kids are a bit older, create a sense of empowerment and excitement about food by enabling them to decide what you will have for dinner once a week, fortnight or month. It may be chips and ice cream, but don’t fight this. In fact, if the food they choose makes them feel a little hyperactive, tired or sickly, this is a lesson learned.**

Change the scenery**

Have a tea party in your child’s playhouse, a picnic lunch in the garden or even supper on a rug in the lounge. Make it fun by allowing their favourite teddy bear or toy to join in too.

If they won’t eat ’em, juice ’em

Getting clever with juice can totally revolutionise your kids’ fruit and vegetable intake.

Set an example

The more good foods your kids see you eat, the more likely they are to imitate your behaviour. Try eating something next to them and watch their natural curiosity take over. Then pretend to grudgingly allow them to graze on some of it from your plate. Later, you can tell them, “You do like mushrooms – remember you ate some of oummy’s yesterday?”

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