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Common patterns of eating and ‘fussiness’ in children

We often find that eating behaviours that are considered normal developmental behaviours from children are mistaken for and labelled as fussy eating. For example, up to 50% of all 0 – three year old children refuse to eat new and different foods at least half the time.

It's important that children can self-regulate their intake of food and feel safe to try and explore different flavours and textures. It's also completely normal that children will want to test the boundaries a little bit - that's why we can see some food refusal, even if they ate that exact same food or meal yesterday.

Division of Responsibility

There is a well-established theory called the Division of Responsibility. This describes how parents and carers are responsible for the what, when and where of eating, and the child is responsible for the if and how much.

The parent or carer decides what food the child is offered, what time of day, where children eat, and the mealtime environment.

The child will decide if they eat anything at all, and if they will try a new food. The child also decides how much they eat.

This is a great way to support your child and create positive food habits. It can help make meal times less stressful by allowing children to eat their food independently without having parents pushing them to finish their meal or try something they may not be comfortable with yet.


Approaches to preparing meals and feeding children

Creating a positive mealtime environment for children

  • Create an environment where the child feels supported and encouraged to eat their meals and try new foods.
  • They should feel safe that if they do not want to eat that is okay, and they will not be forced to, or be in trouble.
  • Avoid the temptation to persuade, entice, encourage, or cheer-lead them to eat anything.
  • Children like routine so this one is key.
  • Minimise distractions at mealtimes (TV, phone, toys) to encourage the children to focus on their food and eating.
  • Use positive and encouraging language with the children, around their mealtime and food.

Role modelling

  • Positive role modelling plays an essential role in encouraging children to eat.
  • If a child sees their parents or siblings eating or trying something new then they are more likely to try this themselves.

Repeat exposure to new foods

  • It can take children more than 15 exposures to a food before they are willing to try it. If they don’t want to eat it then that is okay, maybe they will try it next time.
  • Don’t limit the menu to foods that are readily accepted. Keep offering different foods alongside familiar foods.
  • Pairing new foods with familiar foods can increase a child’s acceptance of new foods.
  • Accept that you cannot always please every eater with every food at every meal. Provide each eater with at least one or two foods they generally enjoy at each meal.