Helpful hints when feeding children

Babies and young children

  •  If you find preparing food at the end of the day when you are tired, stressful, you might find it easier to prepare food in the morning, when you are fresh.
  •     Similarly, you may find it easier to introduce new foods to your child at a time when she is not tired. All children become fussier eaters when they are tired, so if you often have difficulties trying to introduce new foods at  supper/tea time, why not give them for lunch instead?
  •  Introduce as many flavours as possible while your child is still young. It is thought that a person’s taste buds are established by the time they are three, so after that time it is much more difficult to introduce new flavours. If a child is already eating a wide range of foods including fruit and vegetables before they are three, meal times will be easier for you for years to come.
  •  There are many children who, by the time they are three, are not eating vegetables at all. Meal times when a child is young can be hard work whatever food they are eating, but most children, if hungry will eat.
  •  Don’t give your child snacks (however healthy) just before a meal.
  •  Whether a baby/toddler likes the food you are offering or not, there can often be a lot of waste. If a child refuses to eat a certain dish which you have cooked, then try to mix in something they do like, for instance stewed  apple, plain yoghurt, white sauce. They will often then accept the mixture. The next time you cook the dish, add slightly less of the food that they like, so they can slowly get used to the new flavour.
  •  Sometimes a child may refuse food, not necessarily because she doesn’t like it, but for other reasons: she’s not hungry, she wants to feed herself, she doesn’t want to feed herself, she wants to use fingers, she wants to use a spoon, she’s tired/teething etc.
  •  Try to make mealtimes fun. If possible sit down with your child so she doesn’t associate meal times with being strapped into a high chair and left. Playing music during mealtimes can create a calm atmosphere and so make things less stressful (for mums as well as children).
  • Keep trying! Children will often refuse foods to begin with, but this doesn’t mean they will never like them. Don’t give up at the first refusal!


Experiencing food problems is a normal and common stage of development in pre-school children. One-third of under-5s practise food refusal or selective eating.

This is partly because children are experimenting with, or being asked to try new textures and tastes, and partly because they are testing their parents’ reactions and seeing what effect their behaviour has. A child may refuse food to get your attention, so try to give attention and praise when your child is eating, to encourage them to repeat that behaviour.

Keep calm!

Almost all children aged around 2-3 years old have their food favourites and take against certain foods that they have previously liked, or refuse certain foods just from looking at them, or try a little and then refuse that food next time. Many will use food refusal as a way to get your attention – or a reaction. If they are not underweight and seem healthy and are eating some foods from each of the groups, then you shouldn’t worry too much.

Older children

  •  Encourage kids to help with preparing the family meal, according to age. When they are cutting the vegetables, let them know where they come from and how they grow.
  •  Leave a bowl of healthy snacks within easy reach, to prevent unhealthy snacking.
  •  Experiment with healthy food. For example, frozen banana chunks make a tasty alternative to ice cream or lollies and challenge a child’s perception that eating healthily means boring food.
  •  Make sure the adults and older children of the house eat healthily so they set a good example so younger children will want to copy them.
  •  Make cooking and baking fun – get your child involved and you’ll be raising their general knowledge of basic ingredients and cooking skills.
  •  Think about getting older children to arrange to arrange their fruit to make their plate look pretty.
  •  Your child might enjoy playing guessing games revolving around food. For example, what has more Vitamin C, an orange or an apple? What has more calories, an ice lolly or an ice cream?
  •  Involve your children in food shopping so they can see what you are buying and perhaps help you choose the fruit and vegetables.
  •  If all else fails there is always persistence as “taste buds change over time”.