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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Fussy eating

Ngā tamariki kaiutiuti

Fussy eating is a very common stage that many children aged 2 to 5 go through. About one in three children will refuse foods or no longer accept foods they used to eat.

There can be several reasons for your child's sudden lack of interest in food. It may be related to them:

It's normal for your child to let you know which foods they like and dislike. It's also normal for your child to change their mind about what they like and dislike.

It can be a worrying time if your child refuses food or wants to eat different foods to the rest of the family. You may be concerned your child is not eating enough and getting all the nutrients they need to stay healthy. But if your child eats something from each of the four main food groups most days, is active and growing, they're likely to be getting everything they need.

The four main food groups are:

There are lots of ways you can help your child with fussy eating.

Most children grow out of their fussy eating without any long-term problems.

If your child is not growing well and is not regularly eating food from one or more of the main food groups, they may be a problem eater (also called a restrictive eater).

There are several differences between fussy eaters and problem eaters:


Fussy eater

Problem eater

Number of foods

30 or more.

Less than 30.

Food fads

Foods are lost due to a food fad, which means they only want to eat one type of food.

If a food is lost, try a two-week break from the food then try again.

Foods lost due to food fads do not come back after taking a break, often resulting in less foods eaten.

New foods

May touch or taste new foods, even if reluctantly.

May be very anxious if offered new or unfamiliar food.

Cries or pushes food away or throws food, with complete food refusal.

Food textures and colours

Eats a variety of coloured foods and foods with different textures such puréed, mashed and hard crunchy foods. May avoid stringy, grainy or slimy foods.

Often only eats foods of a similar texture such as dry foods or foods of a similar colour such as chicken nuggets, hot chips, smooth yoghurt, bread, and noodles.

Eating with others and
family dynamics

Frequently eats different foods at mealtimes than the rest of the family but typically eats with them.

Often struggles to eat with others.

Can find the noise of others eating or the smell of food off-putting.

Almost always eats different foods than the family and often doesn't eat with them.


Usually a normal weight.

Can be underweight (weight on the 2nd BMI percentile or below).

Nutritional deficiencies


Common, such as low iron.

Food brand and packaging

Is happy to eat foods of the same type with different branding or packaging. For example, yoghurt or chips with different packaging.

Believes the safety of the food is based on the brand and packaging. Will often refuse a food even if it’s the same food with changed packaging or a different brand.

If you're concerned that your child may be a problem eater, talk to your GP or Practice Nurse.

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On the next page: Helping your child with fussy eating

Written by paediatric dietitians, Canterbury DHB. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2021.


Page reference: 117974

Review key: HIHEC-62690