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Fussy eating

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Tips and hints to help manage your fussy eater

A quick check list

Does your child:

  • Have a limited variety of foods – for example, less than 10-15 different food items in the one day?
  • Avoid a whole food group such as all meat, chicken, fish and eggs?
  • Only eat dry white food?
  • Prefer very soft or blended food and gags on, or spits out lumps?
  • Replace meals with milk?
  • Only eat pouch or ‘squeezie’ pack foods?
  • Refuse to try something new?
  • Refuse all vegetables, salad and or fruit?

If you answered yes to any of the checklist you will be relieved to know that you are not alone and this is becoming a very common occurrence in many households. The problem is you may have a little one who is developing or has developed a few fussy eating habits that may lead to inadequate nutrition or health complications such as constipation, iron deficiency or slow weight gain and development.

What Australian Parents are reporting?
  • Many Australian parents are concerned about their children’s eating
  • Parents worry that their child is not eating
  • A toddler who refuses to try a new food at least half of the time is a fussy
  • Around 1 in 2 toddlers refuse to eat a new
  • Children may need to see a new food more than 10 times whereas half of parents give up serving the food after it has been rejected 2-3
Managing your fussy eater is not a one size fits all

All children are different when it comes to their choice of foods; some preferring savoury to sweet foods, others liking smooth over chewy foods and some just like the same thing over and over. There are also differences in food fussiness that can be put in slightly different categories. Due to these differences, each category can require a specific management technique to ensure your little one is getting adequate nutrition for their age.

Use this guide to help you manage your little ‘fuss pot’ to set up healthy relationships and habits that they will take well into their adult lives.

If you have any further concerns about your child’s eating habits please speak with your healthcare professional.

The small ‘picky’ eater

Some of these habits may include:

  • Eating small, sometimes inadequate volumes of
  • Eating very
  • Filling up quickly and pushing the plate
  • Never finishing the plate – however small the portion may


  • Your little one may be gaining weight very slowly or there may be medical concern around their
  • Their nutrient intake may be inadequate due to their small intake of


  • Make every bite
  • Add healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, hommus, nut butters and nut meals (e.g. almond meal) to their
  • Feed your little one more frequently as their stomachs are very small (about the size of their fist). Aim to offer food every 2-2.5 hours.
  • Restrict liquids that they may fill up on around meal times including water and milk, instead offering these after their meal.
  • Limit or avoid ‘filler foods’ that don’t offer much in the way of nutrients such as plain or savoury crackers, sweet
Having a fear of trying new foods

NEOPHOBIC – Extreme or irrational fear or dislike of anything new or unfamiliar.

These little ones ‘know what they like’ and ‘like what they know’ and more commonly seen between the ages of 2-6 years.

Some of these habits may include:

  • Wanting to eat exactly the same foods day in and day out
  • Flatly refusing to try anything new or
  • Becoming anxious if asked to try or eat a new and unfamiliar


  • Your child may be growing and developing well, however food repetition can cause taste fatigue and boredom causing them to reduce the variety of
  • Restricted foods may limit social
  • Anxieties surrounding food can put stress on family
  • Neophobia has been associated with poorer dietary


  • Children may need to see foods more than 10-15 times before they are familiar with
  • You may need to take them through a few steps to trying a new
  • Put the food item on the plate > Touch > Kiss or lick the food > Hold in front teeth > Hold in back teeth > Chomp down.
Avoiding whole food groups

There are 5 food groups and your child needs to enjoy a variety of foods from each group to help support their healthy growth and development.


  • Avoiding a whole food group such as dairy (and alternatives) or vegetables and salads may not provide adequate
  • Missing out on vegetables, salad or fruit may mean inadequate fibre and vitamin
  • Missing out on meat, fish, chicken and eggs may mean inadequate iron, zinc and
  • Missing out on all dairy and alternatives may mean inadequate calcium, vitamin D and


  • Keep a food record of what your little one eats over a few days as this will reveal if a food group is missing – helping you to pinpoint missing
  • If missing out on fibre – try adding some grated or blended vegetables to dishes, use legumes such as red lentils or cannellini beans into dishes. Choose wholemeal or fibre enriched bread, cereals and
  • If avoiding meats – try including eggs, tofu and legumes with their meals to add protein and iron to their
The dry, white food eater

These youngsters love the plain, often dry, white foods with no sauces.

Liked foods include crackers, plain pasta or rice, bread (usually white) and may also include plain sweet foods including sweet biscuits, plain or sweetened breakfast cereals, sweet yoghurts, custard and chips, crisps and chicken nuggets.


  • Unfortunately, whilst this diet is rich in carbohydrate, it can often be quite low in nutrients especially fibre, protein and minerals such as iron and vitamins including vitamin
  • A deficiency in iron and vitamin C can compromise immune systems making it hard to fight infection and the lack of fibre may increase the risk of
  • With its bland colour, it can be very bland in Often little ones who are sensitive to textures, smells and strong tastes end up moving to these foods and it can be very challenging to eat rich flavoured foods such as meat, vegetables, fruits and sauces.


  • The aim is to try to introduce some sauces or spreads into your child’s bland palate – stay white to start with!
  • Using white colour foods such as bananas, cheese, chicken, white beans and You can also try adding fortified rice cereal to baked goods to increase iron or use toddler milk to recipes to add iron, zinc and magnesium.
  • Start with peeled cucumbers, peeled pears and dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture that may deter them from trying the
Failing to progress from puree and blended foods

Purees and blended foods are recommended when your baby first starts solid foods around 6 months of age. Unfortunately some little ones like this smooth texture so much they don’t progress well onto chunks and finger foods. They often gag and spit food out that requires more chewing before they swallow.

Without texture the muscles used for chewing may not develop properly causing littlies to be stuck on blended or pureed foods.


  • Cooking foods to a consistency where the food can be pureed and blended can dilute the nutrients in each
  • Easy to swallow textures does not challenge the muscles in the mouth used for chewing more dense
  • Some children find it difficult to navigate hard to chew foods such as meats and vegetables and often refuse
  • Little ones may not develop chewing techniques and muscles in the mouth and jaw at the proper rate which may impact on their speech


  • Start by adding very small lumps to purees such as a few pieces of cooked rice/risoni/grated
  • Add small pieces chopped banana or avocado to yoghurts and
  • Trial soft crackers with spreads such as hommus, avocado and smooth peanut butter as these crackers are easy to bite down
  • Encourage biting on a face washer in the bath or the back of their toothbrush to build strength in their jaw helping them to bite
  • Encourage biting on a face washer in the bath or the back of their toothbrush to build strength in their jaw helping them to bite
The Milk-o-Holic

Unfortunately some littlies love their milk so much that they leave very little room for any solid foods. Their milk drinks end up replacing whole meals. The long term outcome of this is they can miss chewing cues and miss being exposed to a great variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, grains and cereals, meats, chicken, legumes and fish.


  • Children will still gain weight and grow with milk however their nourishment can be compromised especially their intake of fibre rich foods and those foods containing
  • Their appetites are generally satisfied with milk which unfortunately leaves no room for other foods supplying important
  • Littlies who over consume milk can also develop a bland taste similar to the white food


  • The recommendation is offer drinks (including milk) in a cup from 1 Encourage your little one to drink their water from a starter cup from 6 months.
  • Food should always be given before offering milk, by doing this you will probably find they will eat more and drink
  • Offer other forms of dairy and alternatives to supply calcium such as cheese and
Environmental influences – falling into bad feeding habits

Routine is everything to your little one and setting up healthy food habits is essential in starting out correctly.


  • Poor timing of
  • Eating in front of the
  • No set routine or designated area to
  • Being allowed to graze whenever they like will not help to teach and set up healthy food


  • Set aside an area for your little ones meals time, a low table and chair is ideal; if you can sit with them and enjoy your time
  • Turn off distractions such as TV and iPad and eat with your
  • Stop them from eating and moving around as this can be a choking
  • Try to stick to similar meal times each day to set up their appetite
  • Remove highly processed and refined foods and replace with healthy core
  • Its ok to allow treats for special
  • If you don’t eat your greens, neither will
  • Role modelling is essential for your littlie to see as they are great ‘copy cats’ and will often mimic habits they see others

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