“Yuck, I don’t like it!”… the catch phrase of a fussy eater

But given that 94.4% of Australian adults are not consuming the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables each day, I have a sneaking suspicion that it is not only children who push their plate away at the sight of Brussel sprouts. (1)

Parents are significant role models in the development of children’s eating habits as well as largely responsible for the foods purchased, prepared and provided to children. Given this, it is particularly concerning that 22% of parents are self-confessed ‘fussy eaters,’ and it seems no coincidence that 78% of children 4-8 years and 95% of teenagers 14 -16 years, similarly to their parents, fail to consume the recommended amount of vegetables each day. (2, 3, 4)

Of course there are many factors which influence eating behaviours and some degree of “fussiness” in young children is normal and to be expected. From around 12months of age, as a child begins to assert their independence, playtime takes priority and food refusal, preferences, pickiness, and general uncooperativeness at meal times, is a common problems. On occasions feeding difficulties and fussy eating behaviours are underpinned by medical or developmental issues, in which case professional intervention should be sought. Under normal circumstances, however, parents who are fussy eaters create the perfect environment to promote ‘fussiness’ and typically provide a diet with limited variety and limited opportunities for children to explore new and different foods.

Enjoying a wide variety of foods every day is important as it ensures a broad scope of nutrients within the diet which are essential for good health, growth and development. Regular and sufficient consumption of fruits and vegetables is extremely important, with 2% of all deaths in 2003 directly attributed to insufficient fruit and vegetable intakes. (5)

Managing fussy eating

It is going to come as no surprise that my first and foremost strategy to assist children overcome ‘fussiness’ is to role model positive, healthy eating behaviours – Eat and enjoy (or at least pretend to) foods from each of the five food groups (grains and cereals; fruit; vegetables; milks, cheese, yoghurts and alternatives; meats, nuts, eggs, and legumes), every day. Be excited and enthusiastic to try new foods and different recipes. Try setting yourself a goal to trying one new fruit or vegetable a week and allow children to be involved in choosing which ones to try. Remember to buy in season (these will be the cheapest) and always choose Australian grown where possible.

Encouraging children to be involved in preparing foods, not only introduces important lifelong skills, but also allows children to become familiar with the texture and smells of new and different foods before they are expected to eat them. From about 2 years of age children can be involved in a variety of age appropriate cooking activities which can assist overcome fussy eating behaviours whilst also being a lot of fun. It is important to have age appropriate expectation of your child (as detailed in My Kitchen Milestones) and be prepared for a messy. If spending the afternoon cleaning the kitchen isn’t your idea of fun, try taking your cooking activity outside.

If you’re stuck for ideas of what to make with your budding little chefs, head over to The Kids Menu and download the free e-book ‘14 Healthy Kids Recipes’ which contains simple, fun recipes to engage children in the joy of cooking and healthy eating – it might even inspire a few fussy parents too.


  • I have been very luck with my kids they eat everything put on their plates even brussel sprouts. I use to take a few leaves and mix them into their baby food and I was taught to cook them with bigger flavours like Ginger and lemongrass. Kids will eat just about anything if you let them buy it and help prepare it and I like to have a couple of meals a week where all the food in placed in the centre of the table and shared. Nachos, Indian and Chinese and Wraps etc are good for this kind of dinner. I found that the kids ate a lot more for some reason.

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  • it’s an ongoing battle to convince my kids the food is yummy and good for their bodies so they can be strong and have energy to play. But persist I must as I hope they will one day realise I was only doing the best I could.

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  • A timely lesson for me I think. I really need to begin modelling the behaviour I’d like to see from my toddler.

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  • I find when my kids help out in the kitchen they eat more.

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  • I worry that mine will be fussy eaters as there are lots of food that i dont eat and so i dont want to but them i guess they will develop their own tastes my daughter enjoys brocolli and snow peas however and I do not so theres something.

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  • great tips, might try them with my fussy eater

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  • Good ideas.
    As with all things in teaching our children, being a good role model is the best way to teach them.

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  • We are very much a take it or leave style for meal times

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  • My kids are pretty good eaters.

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  • As a child I was forced to sit at the table and eat things I didn’t like, too bad if it had gone cold and I was sitting there for an hour gagging at the thought of having to put the food I didn’t like into my mouth.

    All I asked of our daughter was that she at least try different food, if she didn’t like it then she wasn’t forced to eat it and we didn’t make a big deal about it, meals times should be pleasant not a battleground. She was and still is a fussy eater and as parents we are certainly not fussy eaters ourselves and have provided a wide variety of food, we all have different tastes.

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  • My son is a pretty good eater
    These days but was a fussy toddler. Things do get better

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  • I probably am guilty of this

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  • At the risk of stirring the pot, I’ll put this thought from my Nanna out there … “Eat it or go hungry”. Unless a child has an allergy or phobia about a food, they should eat what is put in front of them. Pander to “I don’t like that, and I’m not going to eat it”, and you’ve got no-one to blame but yourself when you end up with a child who is a fussy eater.

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  • Good read thanks for the information

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  • It is hard l am with KYLESNOVA here, my son has autism and gags and vomits etc, taste, smell and texture sensitivities make it near impossible to get our kids to try something new. It’s easy to say change their diet but in some cases our kids will actually starve to death. Yes we can model healthy eating for them but it doesn’t mean they are going to eat it. And trying to force the issue makes them more anxious and less likely to try something else.

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