Healthy living

Tips for parents on problem eating habits in school-aged children

You’d think it would be easy getting kids to eat, but at some stage most parents will come across some of these common problems.

If your child won’t eat the evening meal

It’s not unusual for busy children to eat very little at the evening meal. Make sure after school snacks are nutritious and varied. Try a sandwich and drink of milk or even a bowl of soup and toast. Then just offer a small serve of the family meal. Let your child tell you when they are full. Don’t argue and force them to finish the food on the plate.

Is your child a fussy eater?

Offer words of encouragement but don’t force your child to eat. Try not to fuss if your child refuses to eat a particular food. Just keep offering that food at other times. Some children need to see a new food 10 to 15 times before they will try it. Seeing others enjoy the food will help. Offer new foods with other foods you know your child likes.

When your child asks for treats like lollies, chips and take-away foods

Peer pressure and food marketing urging children to try all sorts of foods can be very strong. Most are not the type of food you want your child to eat everyday. Many of these foods replace other nutritious foods. They are high in energy (kilojoules), which can lead to your child becoming overweight if eaten regularly, and they are costly. Let your child try these foods occasionally as a special treat, sharing them with all the family. Treats are not needed in the lunchbox everyday. 

Does your child seem to be gaining too much weight?

Limiting the amount of time spent in front of the TV or computer is a proven start to a healthy weight. Encourage your child to do something active – play games or sports, walk to school if possible, or take the dog for a walk. It’s best if the family joins in some of these physical activities every day.

Attention to diet is also important. Limit extra or treat foods that are high in fat and sugar. Reduce usual portion sizes a little.

Weight loss diets are not suitable for children unless carefully supervised by a doctor or dietitian. Foods eaten must be balanced with growth and development needs and daily activity requirements. If you are worried about your child’s weight you might want to talk to your family doctor.

Where to get help

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book.
  • Look in the phone directory under child health centres.
  • Visit your nearest child health centre.

Local family doctor

Dietitians Association of Australia


Raising Children Network


Child and Adolescent Health Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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