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7 Tips for Fuss-free Mealtimes

7 Tips for Fuss-free Mealtimes

By Novella Lui, RD, MHSc

Mealtimes may be a battle if you are a parent to young children who are selective with their foods. Picky or fussy eating is common in young children, especially toddlers — a 2016 research study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment noted that up to 50 percent of toddlers could be picky eaters. Encouraging your child to consume various nutritious foods to support their growth and development can sometimes be challenging. So, what can we do to help children be less fearful of new foods and build healthy relationships with food at a young age? In this post, we share some helpful eating tips for parents with picky eaters.

1. Practice the division of responsibility

We have to remember that parents should not be short-order cooks. Avoid preparing separate meals for your child if they refuse to eat the meal you already made. It may seem like the easiest way to minimize the tantrums, battles, and arguments, but it prevents exposure to new foods and encourages picky eating. Try practicing the division of responsibility:

Parents decide what, when and where to eat. The child decides how much to eat, whether or not to eat, and how to eat. 

Focus on offering a range of healthy foods for your family. Alongside a new food, offer one to two options you know your child will like. Of the options you prepare, your child may want two scoops of pasta and one piece of broccoli, and that’s fine. Trust that your child knows how much food they need.

2. Introduce new foods with foods your child already loves

Try serving new foods alongside foods your child already likes — this can encourage them to try unfamiliar foods. For example, if your child loves peanut butter and you want to introduce them to celery, try serving celery with peanut butter on top.

3. Be a role model 

Your child will be more willing to try new foods if they see you enjoying them too. Your own lifestyle choices and habits can be a powerful teaching tool. Remember that children are like sponges — they will pick up behaviours and habits from those they see around them.

4. Introduce new foods in small amounts 

Avoid overwhelming your child with a large portion of the new food. Instead, serve a small amount of the new food alongside the foods they like. If they like the new food, they will ask for more.

5. Get creative

Try creatively presenting foods to engage your child in different foods.

Here are a few examples of how to make food fun:

  • Use cookie cutters to give foods a fun shape, such as sandwiches, fruits and vegetables
  • Make silly faces, animals, or characters with food
  • Use fun plates and utensils (choose colourful ones or some with their favourite characters on it)
  • Serve a variety of colourful foods
6. Create a pleasant eating environment

Ensure your child is comfortable and minimize distractions during meal and snack time. Keep TVs, cell phones, and toys away from meals. Instead, talk with your child in a relaxed manner and avoid pressuring them to eat. If your child does not like something, resist giving a negative reaction and commenting if foods were not eaten. When there is less pressure to eat unfamiliar foods, they may become more open to trying them. Research has shown that pressuring a child to eat can cause food avoidance behaviours such as small appetite and food fussiness.

7. Try, try again and don’t give up

Just because your child refused to eat something the first time it is offered doesn’t mean they will refuse it the next. It can take multiple attempts before your child decides whether or not they like a new food. It’s important not to give up and continue offering them various nutritious options at meal and snack time. You can also try cooking foods differently instead of serving them the same each time — patience and persistence will pay off.

Bottom line

Anything new can be scary, including unfamiliar food. Accepting different flavours and textures may be a slow and gradual process. Being patient with children and providing the support and empowerment they need is essential. Picky eating can sometimes be frustrating but the good news is, this will likely improve as children age. Using the tips mentioned can encourage your child to become more open to trying new foods, making mealtimes less of a struggle. Hang in there!


Norris et al., 2016, “Update on eating disorders: current perspectives on avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in children/youth.

Miller et al., 2020, “Non-responsive feeding practices mediate the relationship between maternal and child obesogenic eating behaviour.”


About Novella Lui, RD, MHSc

Novella Lui is a registered dietitian in Ontario and BC with over ten years of experience working with families with young children. In addition to providing consultations to daycares, she delivers nutrition education in the community and creates health and nutrition content for parents, caregivers, organizations, and publications. Novella enjoys cooking in her spare time and is always on the hunt for delicious local eats. Connect with Novella via her website or follow her on Instagram @livetonourishrd.

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