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Encouraging your child to eat

It can be frustrating when your child wants to eat the same thing every day. But it’s common. There are things you can do to encourage your child to try a few bites of nutritious food at each meal:

  • Allow your child to be part of the process, from shopping and cooking to serving
  • Choose recipes with ingredients the child likes
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks
  • Offer small amounts of new foods with some old favourites
  • If a child refuses a new food, try offering it again another day. He or she may need to see the food 10-15 times before trying it
  • Set an example, children often mimic their parents' eating habits

A child may need to see a food 10-15 times before trying it!

What to avoid

It is important to keep meal times positive and avoid tension. Don’t battle with your child over food.  You don’t need to force them to eat everything on their plate. Their appetite varies, so let them listen to their own hunger cues. You should also avoid using bribes or food rewards, especially sweets, because they can make kids dislike certain foods even more.

What NOT to avoid

Regular meal times and set snack times help to ensure that your child is not eating too much between meals. Children have small stomachs, so offering smaller meals with healthy snacks is better than 3 big meals.

Enjoying food

Food should be enjoyed even if it’s not all eaten. For a toddler, enjoying food means touching, feeling and playing with it. So, let your child feed themselves and use their hands, even if it’s messy.  Make sure the food looks good, with different colours and shapes. Let the child pick and choose what they eat. 

Setting a time limit of about 20 minutes for meals is useful. Any longer and it won’t be fun. If your child hasn’t eaten the food in this time and doesn’t want to eat any more, take it away and don’t offer more food until the next meal or snack time.

Fussy eaters are often slow eaters, so try not to rush them .This will cause stress. Just take the food away when they don't want more.

messy eating

Giving your child a choice between healthy options makes it harder for the child to refuse. It lets them feel more involved in the process. But make sure both options are healthy, such as:

  • Should we buy green or red apples?
  • Would you like fruit or a sandwich for your snack?
  • Which vegetables do you want with your meal - peas and potato or carrots and corn?

Things to remember

  • A child will eat when  hungry
  • Toddlers won't eat nutritious food if they have filed up on unhealthy snacks or drinks between meals
  • Children are great imitators – so look at your own eating habits
  • A child’s appetite will change, so it's common for children to be really hungry one day and picky the next
  • Don’t let your children snack after a meal if they haven’t eaten their dinner 
  • Turn off the TV and remove other distractions
  • Don't let your child fill up on drinks just before a meal

Check out this video from the Raising Children Network website - How to tell if your child is eating enough

[Source: Raising Children Network; Nutrition Australia; Victoria Health – Better Health Channel]


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