How to encourage fussy eaters to try new foods

Do you have a child that’s a fussy eater? Claire Latham shows you how to encourage them to try more foods and why it really isn’t something to worry about…

how to cope with fussy eaters

When I became a parent, fussy eating wasn’t even on my radar. Like most new parents, I was under the blissful notion that my children would eat anything and everything placed in front of them, including a wide range of fruit and vegetables and, of course, would never demand sweets or junk food. The reality however is very different and while I have one child that probably does fit into that category (while requesting a huge side order of junk!) the other is, shall we say… slightly more selective about what they eat.

And let’s face it, if your child isn’t eating as well as you’d like it is a worry. As a parent you probably feel that it is your job to ensure that your child is well fed and, when they are refusing to eat what you put in front of them, what do you do? Yet while it’s natural to worry, please also remember that it is also natural for children, especially toddlers, to be fussy. In a world where they probably don’t have much control, eating (or not) is the one place where they can display their likes and dislikes and if they can see that it gets them attention from their parents, even when that attention is somewhat negative, that is where things can start to go wrong.

Over the years, I have gathered a number of strategies that have helped me to cope with any fussy eating in our home. The first is to always remind yourself that children’s tastes change. At our house, things that were often refused when they were younger are eaten now, and I have found that having rules that were consistent but fair certainly helped me to stay sane! Now that the children are older, I recently introduced another rule that they must try a bite of everything, even if they have hated it in the past. Another tip I picked up from the book “French Children Eat Everything” (Karen Le Billon) was to tell them that they might not like it now, but they will one day. A concept that seems to have cut out any arguments and makes my children try the disliked food again in the future.

how to cope with fussy eaters

But my favourite tactic of all is cooking with the kids. Cooking was something that I had to teach myself, moving from simple recipes from websites such as Netmums to now being (in my opinion) a fairly reasonable home cook. When time allows, have your children cook with you. We even went as far as to buy them each a child friendly knife so that they can help chop vegetables, and it helps them know not only how to cook and what is involved, but also teaches them an understanding of where food comes from. You will probably even find that they can give you a few pointers in how to produce healthy meals, as children are learning so much about nutrition at school. The added bonus is that if they are cooking it themselves, then they will be more enthusiastic to try the food they produce. I also go as far as sometimes asking my two to plan the meals for the week, which they love doing. They have the task of keeping the meals reasonably healthy, and I know that we will have a week of mealtimes where they will happily eat everything on their plate.

Another trick that helped me a lot was to write a list of what they do like to eat. By doing this, I noticed that there was actually quite a variety and a lot of it was fairly good for them. See if you can find any foods that you could produce a slight variation of. If they love spaghetti bolognaise, is there another similar dish that you could try them with? If they like cod, perhaps try salmon served with exactly the same side dishes. If they don’t like the change, then revert back to the tried and trusted recipe next time. Remember that they might also be put off by texture. My daughter hates cooked tomatoes but loves tomato soup and raw tomatoes. Can you serve their pet hates in a different form?

Portion sizes can also have a huge impact. Large servings can often be overwhelming for a small child, so try serving foods in a way that allows them to help themselves to the correct amount for them. Similarly, think about if they are getting all of their food requirements at other meals. In the early days, I realised that we were filling up too much at breakfast and lunch which didn’t leave much room for the evening meal. But this can also be a good thing, as I realised that there was a lot of goodness going in throughout the day and this took the pressure off at teatime. The same goes for timing your evening meal. By pushing dinnertime back by half an hour, you might find that the children are hungrier and looking forward to it more.

And finally, you can always sneak some goodness in. Try spinach in a fruit smoothie or flaxseed in cereal and remember that as they grow and change, so will their tastes.

About the author

gluten-free parentingClaire Latham is a freelance writer and mother who specialises in gluten-intolerance. You can find her at