Web Content Viewer (JSR 286) - Healthy Weight

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Baby looking unhappy in high chair eating peasChildren, particularly those under five years old, don’t always want to eat healthy food. It can be frustrating for parents and carers, but there are ways to deal with fussy eaters. It helps if you understand why they are behaving that way.

If children won’t eat the food you give them, it may be because they’re not hungry. A child’s appetite can vary from day to day with their changing activity levels and growth spurts. Toddlers have smaller appetites than babies, and they know best how much they need to eat – so don’t force or bribe them into eating more.

Maybe they've filled up on drinks (including milk) and snack foods. Think about how much they’ve had to eat and drink over the day – you may need to cut back on the snacks and drinks they have between meals.

Children may not eat because they are tired or they’re asserting their independence – both are natural for young children. If it’s because they are tired, try to offer their meals at regular times, with the main meal at lunchtime. If young children play with their food, they may be trying to get attention. Try to keep meal times free of distractions – quiet parts of the day with no toys or television.

Perhaps your kids are demanding their favourite foods and refusing to try new foods. If so, you decide what food is on offer for meals and snacks – let your kids decide how much they will eat or even whether they will eat. Children often go through food fads, so just keep trying.

Other tips for fussy eaters include the following:

  • Introduce new foods in small amounts.
  • Try serving new foods with the food they already like. Remember that children may need to taste a food many times before they decide they like it. 
  • Put serving plates in the middle of the table so it’s easy to serve them a little more if they eat what they were given.
  • Give kids a choice of two healthy options, such as healthy cereal or fruit, so they feel they have a say in what they eat.

Whatever the reason your children don’t want to eat, it is best to stay calm and remove the uneaten food. 'Start them right' has more ideas about how to get children to eat particular food groups of food.

Source: Start them right  ... A parents’ guide to healthy eating for under fives.
Department of Health and Human Services, Tasmania. http://www.dhhs.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/81769/53063_start_them_right_booklet_spreads.pdf