Young children don’t eat well if they are very hungry or tired, avoid this by setting a daily routine of 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.


Set up an area for eating ideally with a table you can all sit at.


Turn off any distractions e.g. TV or iPad and put away toys.


Eat together as much as possible. Talk about foods you enjoy and avoid making negative comments about foods. Mealtimes can be a great time to help your child’s language skills.


Learning to eat is a new skill that takes time often resulting in spills and mess, handle accidents in a calm way. Avoid wiping your child’s hands and face during the meal, wait to the end of the meal to clean them up.


Large portions can be overwhelming. Start with small portions, if finished praise your child and offer more.


Keep mealtimes to 20-30 minutes, children are unlikely to eat more after this time.


Avoid making a completely different meal if your child refuses a meal. Instead try offering 2 courses, a main meal and a nutritious pudding such as fruit and yoghurt, to give your child another opportunity to eat.


Avoid giving snacks or drinks too close to mealtimes – this can fill up your child before meals.


Try to keep mealtimes calm and take away any uneaten food without comment. Try to ignore fussing at mealtimes, giving lots of attention when your child is not eating may encourage them to continue behaving this way.


Keep offering a food even if your child has previously rejected that same food – it can take 15-20 times for a child to try a new food.


Give your child praise and attention when eating well or trying new foods.


Try foods in different forms, for example, a child may not eat cooked carrot but may eat raw carrot.


Children are more likely to try new foods if they are offered with foods they already like. Try putting new foods in a separate bowl or plate.


Never force a child to eat. Using pressure, force or coercion to get your child to eat often has the opposite effect.


Let your child decide how much to eat, young children are really good at regulating their own appetite. Their appetites can vary day to day so they may eat more on some days than others. If your child is showing signs they have had enough, take the food away without any comment.

Non-food rewards

There are lots of ways to reward or comfort your child without using food.

Ideas include:

  • Praise, claps and a simple well done.
  • Use hugs and kisses to comfort your child.
  • Stickers.
  • A favourite game or activity.
  • Trip to the park.