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Fussy eating - toddlers and young children

food; meals; snacks; water; milk; drinks; tummies; hungry; fussy;

It is normal for toddlers to be fussy eaters.

Offer your child a variety of healthy foods. Let your child choose which foods and how much they want to eat.

Have a look at the topic Feeding toddlers - 10 tips for happy meal times to set up good eating habits.

Here are some common problems and suggestions to make things easier.


My child won't eat the food served

  • Keep a regular eating routine and avoid delays to meals. Children don't eat well when they are tired.
  • Offer a choice of two healthy foods. Let your child decide which one and how much to eat.
  • Do not give in to her nagging for her favourite foods. Healthy children will not starve themselves
  • Calmly remove any uneaten food. If practical and safe you could try offering the uneaten food again if your child is hungry before the next meal or snack. If children have rejected the food before they may think they are being punished if they are only offered the same food again.

My child won't eat meat

  • Red meat and chicken can be difficult to chew. Try minced meat or meat/chicken cut into strips.
  • Offer cold meats in a sandwich or on a salad plate.
  • Offer other foods that are sources of protein and iron:
  1. Eggs, smooth peanut butter, baked beans, fish and dairy foods are good sources of protein.
  2. Chicken, fish, legumes (e.g. baked beans, lentils), smooth peanut butter and iron-fortified breakfast cereals contain small amounts of iron.

My child won't eat vegetables

  • Offer plenty of vegetables and fruit during the day and then don't worry if they don't eat vegetables at the evening meal.
  • Mash or grate vegetables into mince dishes, pancakes, soups, pizza and dips.
  • If your child likes mashed potato, also mash in pumpkin, sweet potato, carrot or peas to make different colours.
  • Offer sticks of steamed vegetables with a dipping sauce.
  • Set a good example by eating vegetables yourself.

My child won't drink milk

  • Offer yoghurt, milkshakes and fruit smoothies as a snack.
  • Grate cheese or mash cottage cheese into vegetables.
  • Try soy products (with added calcium).

My child won't drink water

  • Always offer water (or milk up to 500ml per day) when your child asks for a drink.
  • Have tap water on the table at each meal and set a good example by drinking water yourself.

Encourage children to eat but do not force them

  • Children will eat healthy foods when hungry.
  • If your child refuses healthy foods, it is best not to offer an unhealthy choice such as chips or sweet biscuits.
  • It is best not to give children food as a reward, for comfort or to keep them busy.

Trying new foods

  • Talk about new foods.
  • Offer a new food with one that your child likes.
  • You may need to offer new foods 10 times or more, before a child will taste it.
  • Stay calm and positive.
  • Set a good example and let your child see you enjoying healthy foods.
  • Your child may dislike some foods - that's okay.

More information

Have a look at other topics on this website

Women's and Children's Hospital, South Australia 

Pregnancy, birth and baby Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.

Where to get help in South Australia

  • Visit your Child and Family Health nurse - call 1300 733 606.
  • Call the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100.
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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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