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Home > Vitafriendspku > Your pku journey > Fussy Eating in Children

Fussy Eating in Children


Many children go through phases where they are reluctant to try new foods. They may even refuse foods they have previously enjoyed. This is a normal way for your child to show that they are developing their independence. The length and extent of this phase varies from child to child and can happen at any time.

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It’s perfectly normal for you to worry whether your child is getting enough food, however, if they are growing well, are healthy and have enough energy to play, learn and explore, they are most probably eating enough.

When a child refuses food, it can be stressful for all the family. The good news is, they will probably be less fussy the older they get! 

Your child’s appetite is dependent on how active they are and how much they are growing. There are a number of reasons why they may refuse food, such as: taste, shape, size, colour or texture – to name a few! It can take up to 10-15 tastes of a new food before your child gets used to it, so persevering is worth it! 

We have put together some tips you might find helpful to get you through this phase. 

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Make meals enjoyable and social
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  • Pleasant, low-stress and regular mealtimes can help with fussy eating. 
  • Try to keep distractions to a minimum; turn the TV off, put computer games, tablets and toys away. 
  • Eating together encourages children to enjoy a variety of foods so try to eat with them as often as possible. Sit down and chat with your child, even if you aren’t eating together. 
  • Give your child a low protein version of the food the rest of the family are eating where possible sticking to appropriate portion sizes.
  • Incorporating low protein foods into family meals may be helpful. Your child will learn by example so ensure you are being a positive role model. 
  • Your child may be a slow eater, patience is key! Allow them enough time to eat but don’t let the meal drag on for too long. Around 20-30 minutes is about right. 
  • Three meals and two snacks a day is a good eating pattern for children – try not to give your child too many snacks or large drinks close to mealtimes as will fill them up and can reduce their appetite for the meal.
  • Be consistent and regular with mealtimes. Following a routine such as setting the table, hand washing and sitting at the table helps your child to prepare for the meal they are about to eat.  
  • It is important that everyone involved in your child’s care and meals, manages their behaviour and fussy eating in the same way. Speak with family and friends to make sure they know what you want them to do when it comes to mealtimes with your child! 
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Trying new foods
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  • Children's tastes are constantly changing. Keep introducing new foods and trying previously refused foods. It can take a lot of attempts before your child accepts them. 
  • Never force your child to eat anything that they refuse. This can be very frustrating but try again another time.  
  • Too much food may overwhelm your child. Once they finish what they are given, offer more. If they are hungry they will accept it.  
  • Praise your child for trying new foods. 
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Mealtime behaviour
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  • Try to set boundaries around mealtimes and be clear with your child about what behaviour is acceptable. 
  • Don’t reward, punish or bribe with food. You can reward your child in different ways, for example, a sticker for their reward chart, having a special day together or a trip to the park. 
  • If your child refuses the meal you have prepared, do not make something different. At their next meal they will be hungry and will eat. Making their favourite foods all the time will further restrict their diet. 
  • Try not to show your child that you are worried or annoyed by them not eating. Children can often pick up on your concerns and it could make the situation worse. 
  • Ensure that you don’t let your child’s refusals put you off trying new foods with them, remain positive and continue to encourage new foods.  
  • Encourage all family members to use positive language around your child’s low protein diet. 
  • Giving your child some control e.g. where they would like to sit at the table or which foods go where on the plate can help them to assert their independence.  
  • Offer your child choices at mealtimes, such as which permitted vegetables they would like.  
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Other ideas
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  • When you are introducing new foods, you should allow your child to play and explore. There are many steps to acceptance, with eating being the last step – it may be enough if your child simply touches or tastes the food to begin with.  
  • Teach your child about where foods come from, for example, about plants, growing foods and going food shopping.  
  • A food related children’s story book or cookery TV show might begin to change your child’s attitude to food and eating. 
  • Children are more likely to eat something they have helped to prepare, so don’t be afraid to get them involved! Your child could help to get the foods you need out of the fridge, wash the fruits and vegetables or even plant and pick their own herbs! You don’t even need a garden, just a windowsill! 
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There are a number of reasons your child may refuse to eat, these include:
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  • Tiredness 
  • Feeling unwell 
  • Eating alone 
  • Snacking throughout the day 
  • Drinking large amounts of fluid, especially just before meals 
  • Constipation 


If you feel your child is especially anxious about trying new foods or if you are still concerned about their dietary intake, you should always contact your child’s dietitian. 

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