girl looks at food on her plate

How to support selective eaters

Getting your child involved with making their meal, whatever their age, can help make sure they try what’s on their plate. 

Fear of new foods can be real for a lot of children, typically when they are very young (18 months – 2 years). 

This article looks at how you can support selective eaters in your family and how you can  create an environment to make food more appealing and mealtimes more enjoyable. ​​​​​Selective eating is more commonly known as “Fussy eating” or “picky eating”.​​​​​

Top tips: 

  • Stick with it. It can take up to fifteen tries of a new food before children accept it, and their tastes will often change. Every now and then, try them again with a food they’ve said no to in the past. 

  • Don’t use favourite foods as a reward if your child tries something new – it will only make them prize those foods even more. 

  • Start small. Give them a tiny taste of a new food first – they can always have more. This could be something you are eating so there’s no waste. 

  • Give them control – let them spit it out into a tissue if they really don’t like it! 

  • Praise them for having a go. 

  • Take them shopping. When you’ve got time, explore the fruit and veg aisle with them and get them choosing a new fruit or veg they haven’t tried before. 

  • Serve children what you’re eating, where age appropriate – they’re more likely to try things that the whole family’s tucking into. 

Presenting food for selective eaters

  • Let your child serve themselves. Put the different parts of the meal in different bowls and let them fill their own plates. Encourage them if you need to.  

  • Be creative – use foods of different shapes, textures and colours. 

  • Give them small servings at first. They can always have seconds but can feel put off by big portions. 

  • Bring the food to life. A simple noodle soup? ‘Wiggly Worm Soup’ sounds so much more fun! 

  • Individual-sized portions in smaller dishes makes you feel like the food was made especially for you – and can make your child more likely to eat it. 

Creating a good mealtime

  • Mealtimes are about so much more than food. Try to sit down together to eat whenever you can, turn off the TV and use the time to chat – research shows this also helps build children’s confidence. 

  • As frustrating as it is, don’t get cross or force children to eat. Take their plate away without comment if they haven’t eaten what’s on it. The leftovers from the self-serve dish/dishes can be covered to store in the fridge for your next meal or snack.  

  • Try and stick to set mealtimes, to create routine and help make sure they’re not too tired or hungry to eat. 

  • Use positive peer role-models – invite other children who are ‘good’ eaters to join you for a meal - it can work wonders! 

Hidden goodness

  • Helping children learn what different foods feel, smell, look and taste like is one of the best ways to combat selective eating. But if there are still some fruits and vegetables that your child just won’t entertain, you might need to get a bit sneaky as a last resort. Ultimately, it’s about helping them eat a balanced diet. 

  • Add cooked and mashed carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato or swede to normal mashed potato. How about trying Cottage Pie or Mixed Veg Pie?

  • Throw finely chopped carrots, peppers and onions into bolognese sauce. 

  • Try a secret ingredient for chocolate cake – beetroot keeps it beautifully moist. 

  • Put fruit in puddings – for example Peach and Raspberry Cake and Fruity Oat Crumble Sundae go down a treat. 

  • Chop ripe banana into bite-sized pieces and freeze them. Flash freeze if possible and ensure all the air is removed from the bag to reduce browning. Frozen banana chunks look and taste great and make a healthy alternative to ice-cream or lollies. 

By using these tips you can encourage your child to try new food experiences and support them to eat a healthy and balanced diet. 

Additional resources

Getting children and young people involved in cooking is a great way of developing a healthy relationship with food and lifelong skills. 

You may also find these articles interesting with further tips for selective eaters.