Indian couple spoon-feeding a young boy and girl.

Smart Strategies for Fussy Eaters

It may seem like a never-ending battle trying to get your children to eat nutritious foods that help them grow and thrive. But don’t worry. You can make mealtime healthier and happier for the whole family by following the five steps below.

Step 1: Manage Meal and Snack Times
Establishing set meal and snack times can help your child understand hunger and fullness. Decide on a time range for each meal that works with your family’s routines, putting two to four hours between each meal or snack. For example, serve breakfast between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., a morning snack between 10:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., lunch between 12:00 p.m. and 1:00 p.m., an afternoon snack between 3:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and dinner between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Only give your child water in between meals and snacks.

Follow the schedule for two weeks. Then, assess its effectiveness. If the feeding schedule is not working, make adjustments based on your family’s needs.

Step 2: Understand Your Child’s Hunger Signals
As you set mealtimes, pay attention to your child’s signs of being full or hungry. If you’re not sure how to tell, notice how your child behaves around mealtimes for a week.

Only feed your child when she shows signs of hunger and end meals when she shows signs of being full. Don’t try to force meals. Instead, you may need to adjust mealtimes if your child is consistently hungry before the established time to eat.

Step 3: Choose Healthy Foods
To ensure you have the right foods available at each meal and snack, make a list of things your family eats often and circle the foods that have at least one of the following:

  • Fruits or vegetables
  • Fortified breakfast cereals (look at the food label for ingredients with higher amounts of iron and B vitamins)
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Fresh meat, poultry, fish or pulses (lentils, peas and beans)
  • Milk-based products

Serve two or more of the circled foods at each meal and snack. As your child’s feeding skills improve, modify the texture of the foods you serve.

Step 4: Eat Together as a Family
Watching others eat is an important part of learning to eat. So once your child starts eating solid foods, family members should all sit together as often as possible for meals and snacks. Use a high chair if possible and pull it up to the table. If a high chair isn’t available, you can put the child in a secured booster seat at the table or sit the child on a parent’s lap.

To help ensure happier and healthier family meals, just follow these guidelines:


DOs   DON'Ts
Do eat your food while feeding your child   Don't pressure your child to take a bite
Do make comments about what the food looks or tastes like, or how much you like it   Don't make comments about what or how much your child eats
Do allow your child to feed themselves as much as possible and to touch and play with the food   Don't wipe their face during the meal—let him make a mess
Do set rules for behavior at the table, such as no throwing food, no taking food from other plates without asking, etc.   Don't make the child stay at the table after he or she is done eating
Do remove children who break the rules and put them in time out for several minutes before allowing them to return to the table  
Do end family meals after 20 to 30 minutes unless the child is still actively eating  

Step 5: Offer New Foods Consistently
To help ensure your child is eating a variety of nutritious foods and expanding his or her palate, try following these tips:

  • Offer your child a food she doesn’t eat or hasn’t tried before at least once a day
  • Put a small amount of the new food on their plate
  • Make sure there are one or two foods you know they eat on the plate as well
  • Do not pressure them to take a bite or to try the new food
  • Talk positively about the new food and other foods on the plate
Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or advice from a qualified healthcare professional.
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