Picky or Fussy Eating

It is normal for a child to eat very well one day and eat very little the next.

After the first year of life, children do not grow as quickly. If a child is in a growth spurt or has been physically active, you can expect a bigger appetite.

Quick Tip: Children who are more active have healthier appetites

Most children go through periods when they are picky eaters or are choosy about the foods they eat. Some children have a short list of foods they will eat.

Other children simply refuse to try new foods. Expect some picky eating and times when a child wants the same food day after day.

Children may not want to eat if they are:

  • Tired
  • Distracted
  • Not hungry
  • Not feeling well
  • Not familiar with a new food
  • Not able to have their favourite food
  • In a slow growth period

Preschoolers are beginning to learn about independence and power, as well as cooperation and sharing. Fussy or picky eating may be children’s way of showing they can make their own choices. They know that their decision to eat or not to eat can get lots of attention.

Caregivers provide—Children decide

Make every bite count by offering healthy, tasty and appealing food. It is up to the child to decide which foods to like and how much to eat.

Avoid nagging or making deals with a child such as: “Just two more bites” or “If you eat your vegetables, you will get dessert.” Let the child’s fullness cues guide you.

There is no need to reward a child for eating, just as you do not reward a child for everyday activities such as brushing his or her teeth or putting on his or her shoes.

Suggestions to help children eat well:  

  • Set regular meal and snack times.
  • Remind children when the next meal or snack will be.
  • Offer healthy foods that are tasty and appealing. Give food fun names, such as "apple moons", "broccoli trees", or "cheese building blocks".
  • Offer water to satisfy thirst without spoiling their appetite.
  • Give hugs, attention or gold stars instead of food.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Serve small amounts and allow for seconds.
  • Serve one meal for everybody with at least one food your child enjoys at each meal.
  • Offer new foods often. Even if children want the same sandwich for lunch, change the vegetables, fruit or soup you serve. 
  • Let children help you make meals and snacks to learn about what they are eating.

Sit and eat with children to show you enjoy healthy foods, rather than:  

  • Letting children eat whenever they want food.
  • Letting child choose from less healthy “fun” foods that are higher in fat, sugar or salt.
  • Letting children drink juice or milk between meals and snacks.
  • Using food as a reward.
  • Nagging or making deals with children to eat, or “clean their plate.”
  • Preparing special food for the picky eater.
  • Serving a limited variety of foods or giving up after you offer a new food once or twice.
  • Making a food the child is not familiar with and is less likely to eat.
  • Expecting children to eat healthy foods if they don’t see you eating them.