How to deal with food refusal…

How to deal with food refusal…



We’ve all been there – we’ve lovingly prepared a meal but our little one refuses point blank to eat the delicious, nutritious plate of food in front of her, and yet you know she’d hoover up a slice of pizza in an instant!


Being faced with a child who refuses to eat healthy foods, like vegetables or fruit, but who will happily eat chips, cake and other ‘junk’ foods, can be worrying for those who are taking care of them.  Caregivers may be tempted to pressure or force the child to eat food, believing that this is in the child’s best interests. But pressuring a child to eat a food, or to eat more than they wish, can have unintended consequences.


Research has shown that foods people are pressured or forced to eat become less desirable, which means children are even less likely to want to eat their broccoli or lasagne if they feel pressurised.


There is also evidence to show if a child is repeatedly pressured to eat more than they want to at mealtimes it can ‘teach’ them to ignore their internal cues about fullness and hunger which, long-term, will contribute to childhood overweight and obesity.


If a child is refusing to eat foods, there are certain practical steps we recommend. These include:


Examine the evidence:

  • Think about how long it is since the child last had a snack or filling drink such as milk.
  • Might they be too tired to sit at the table and eat well?
  • Are they feeling unwell? If they are poorly, they may not want to eat.


Put yourself in their shoes

  • Try to imagine what it would be like if you were not hungry and were being coaxed to eat – even force-fed – or if you were unsure of the safety of the food on offer.
  • Eating should be a pleasurable experience that meets a biological need – and not about pleasing someone else.


Check portion sizes– the rule of palm:

  • As a guide, a single portion is roughly what would fit in the palm of the child's hand. Meals should include a palm of the main attraction and two to three palms of the accompanying foods. Providing too much food could be why children refuse to eat it.


There is more information about this and other common feeding pitfalls in our Child Feeding Guide but please also pop over to the forum and ask us your feeding-related questions there.


Dr Emma Haycraft & Dr Gemma Witcomb