We all want the best for our children and that includes good eating habits. It can be frustrating or worrisome when children are fussy or picky eaters. Your child may refuse to eat part or all of the family meal or only want certain food for school lunches.

If mealtimes are a struggle, following these tips will help your child develop better eating habits. If you still have concerns or questions, contact your health care provider.

Tips:

  1. Eat together as often as possible. Your child will eat better, learn table manners and maintain a healthier weight. You are an important role model for healthy eating.
  2. Let your child see you making healthy choices. For example, try to eat vegetables and/or fruit with each meal and most snacks. In time, your child will do the same.
  3. Keep mealtimes pleasant. A relaxed child will eat better than an upset child.
  4. Offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks at regular times, each day. Offer only water between meals and snacks. Even a little milk, juice or a few crackers can spoil your child’s appetite. This should encourage your child’s appetite during mealtimes.
  5. Turn the TV off. Research shows you and your child will eat better without the TV on. Other distractions that make it hard to focus on eating include toys, telephone calls, text messaging, the radio and the computer.
  6. Make one meal, not separate meals. Your child will not learn to eat a variety of food if you only serve what your child likes to eat. Always serve one food you know your child will eat (for example, bread, milk, rice, potatoes) so they won’t go hungry.
  7. Let your child decide if and how much to eat from the healthy choices that you serve. Growth, activity and sickness are a few things that can affect your child’s appetite. Trust that your child knows when he/she is hungry or full. Serve a variety of healthy food in platters and bowls so your child can serve themselves.
  8. Avoid pressure, praise, rewards, tricks or punishment. Children do not eat well when they are pressured to eat. Serve new food on different days in small amounts with familiar food. Never force your child to try foods. There may be some foods they truly do not like and that’s OK.
  9. Expect it to take 8-15 tastes or more before a child will like a new food.

  10. Don’t let your child fill up on drinks. Drinking too much may leave less room for healthy foods. Offer fruit more often than juice. Try 125mL-250 mL (½-1 cup) of milk or a fortified soy beverage at meals or snack times. Keep a jug of water on the table. If they are still thirsty they can have water.
  11. Grow, pick, cook and shop for food together. Your child can learn to pack a school lunch and give ideas for meal planning as well. Children learn to enjoy a wide variety of foods when they are involved.

Common questions and answers

Dinner is spent arguing about eating and I often make separate meals. What can I do?

Make one meal for the family. Don’t make a separate meal. Be kind but firm and follow through with not making separate meals. Mealtimes will be more enjoyable and your child will learn to eat a variety of food when you both stick to your own “jobs”. You decide what food to serve and your child decides if and how much to eat.

Also try to:

  • Offer a balanced meal. Include foods from 3-4 food groups per meal. Offer at least one food your child will eat so your child won’t go hungry.
  • Serve food in platters or bowls. Let your child serve themselves.
  • Resist the urge to comment on what or how much your child eats.
  • If you have dessert, keep it to one small portion. Serve fruit often.
  • After dinner, offer only water until evening snack time. Offer a small healthy snack.

How do I know if my school-age child is getting enough?

If your child is growing well, seems healthy and happy she/he is likely doing fine. When children grow faster, they will eat more and when their growth slows down, they will eat less. There is no need for concern about the odd skipped meal. Contact your child’s health care provider if you still have concerns.

My child does not like vegetables. What can I do?

You can influence your child’s food choices. Serve and eat vegetables yourself. You are an important role model for your child.

You can also:

  • Serve vegetables at each meal without pressure to eat them.
  • Offer vegetables raw, chopped, grated, grilled, baked, mashed or steamed. Offer them plain, with a cheese sauce or with a dip.
  • Try vegetables in stir fries, casseroles, lasagne, fried rice, pitas, pizzas, muffins, pasta sauces, tacos, stews, soups, salads, wraps and omelettes.
  • Allow your child to spit out a vegetable into a napkin if they don’t like it. Offer encouragement for trying a new food.
  • Offer fruits as they provide similar nutrients as vegetables.
  • For better nutrition, serve vegetables and fruit more often than juice. Limit juice to 125 mL (½ cup) per day so they don’t fill up on it.
  • Serve only water between regular meal and snack times. Keep your child physically active. 

My child wants to eat the same thing for lunch over and over again. What should I do?

As long as your child’s favourite food is a healthy choice, you can continue to offer this food to your child. In addition, offer a variety of foods from the different foods groups at each meal and snack. Offer different variations of their favourite food to increase variety.

For example, if they like macaroni and cheese, add chicken or carrots pieces to it. If your child does not take milk and milk alternatives at lunch, offer yogurt or a glass of milk or fortified soy beverage with dinner. In time your child will eat different foods.

Incorporate these guidelines into your everyday lifestyle and if you are concerned that your child is not reaching their nutrient-requirements, consider Kiddievite multivitamins, which are great tasting, chewable, convenient and affordable.

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