Eating and Drinking advice

Fussy Eating

Fussy Eating

Parents often tell us that their child is a fussy eater and they worry about the amount and types of food they are  eating. They also raise concerns about their child's reluctance to try new foods

What can you do?

Eating should be a sociable and positive experience that you can share with your child. Mealtimes with children who are fussy eaters can cause a lot of stress and anxiety, however, it is really important that adults remain calm and avoid putting pressure on children to eat or drink as children can pick up on the feelings and anxiety of those around them.

Download our advice for fussy eaters:  fussy eater advice leaflet

Despite your concerns, your child might be eating a much bigger variety of foods than you think. It could be helpful to keep a food diary over a week. Download a  Food Diary

Our top tips for fussy eaters:

  • Make sure they have positive role models for meal times and snacks
  • Always offer something familiar you know your child will eat at each meal.
  • Give small portions. If these are finished, praise the child and offer more.
  • Offer finger foods as often as possible. This gives children the opportunity to touch and feel food that they are in control of. 
  • Avoid lengthy meal times—it should last no more than 20-30 minutes.
  • Let your child help out with any food related activities such as shopping, putting food away and preparing meals where appropriate.
  • Give your child the opportunity to experience messy play activities.
  • Allow your child to get messy during the mealtime and try not to clean their hands or face before the mealtime is finished.

For advice on helping children enjoy different foods:  Learning to enjoy different foods leaflet

Messy Play

How can messy play help?

Children learn about different food textures, tastes and smells by handling them and experiencing them regularly.   Experiencing foods in play can increase acceptance of new foods because there is no pressure  for them to eat the food.

Our top messy play tips:

Foods - Start with dry foods and foods that your child likes. Introduce wetter textures and less favoured foods once your child is more familiar with the idea of messy food play.

Time -  Whist you should encourage your child to explore foods at mealtimes, it is also important to introduce messy food play activities at other times. This reduces the anxieties associated with being ‘expected’ to eat the food.

Place - Play somewhere that is easy to clean. Messy mats or plastic sheeting can be very useful. The easier it is to clean up, the more your child will be able to explore and get messy.

Pace - Follow your child’s lead by copying what they do with the food. Move to the next step by showing them ideas yourself and encourage them to take a turn. 

Communication - talk to your child about what you are doing. Name the foods, use descriptive words like squish or splat, and sing, smile and laugh!

Have fun - Show your child you are enjoying the experiences too

Messy play leaflet 

Top tips messy play

Top ideas for messy play


What is Dysphagia?

Dysphagia is difficulty with swallowing. Your child may be referred to a Speech and Language therapist if they have problems with eating, drinking or swallowing.

Dysphagia referral form  

The Speech and Language Therapist may give you advice about types and textures of food. The International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative (IDDSI) is used to ensure advice is clear and consistent. Information about IDDSI descriptors

Who can be referred? 

Children who have difficulties with eating and drinking along with:

  • Evidence of potential aspiration
  • Abnormal muscle tone
  • Compromised respiratory status
  • Faltering growth
  • Evidence of persistent gastro-oesophageal reflux
  • Other high risk factors e.g Neonatal trauma, significant prematurity etc

We do not accept referrals where eating and drinking difficulties are predominantly sensory in nature and for example are associated with gastroesophageal reflux, unless this is very significant e.g., the child requires enteral feeding.