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Fun not Fuss with Food: Frequently asked questions

Category: Child Health

Topic: Diet and Eating

This page has answers to some common concerns parents might have about the food intake of babies and young children.

Q: My son eats hardly anything but drinks plenty of milk. Is this okay?

A: Milk is a food and is very filling. If your child is drinking a lot of milk—more than 400mL a day—then he is having too much. He may not be eating much else because he is too full. Try offering water sometimes to drink instead.

Q: My 2-year-old daughter will only eat jam sandwiches. I am upset by the amount of food wasted and she won't try anything new. What can I do?

A: Your daughter is at an age when she is starting to be more independent. Saying ‘no’ to food is a normal part of this. Sometimes children use ‘no’ as a way of having some control over what is happening around them. Remember that if a child is hungry, she will eat. A healthy child will not starve because of food refusal. Food wastage can be worrying for parents for many reasons: costs, concerned the child is not eating enough, wasted time and effort preparing food.

Here are some tips that may help you:

  • Be comfortable with the effort you put into preparing foods.
  • Offer a variety of small portions on your child’s plate. You are less likely to worry if a couple of banana slices hit the floor rather than the whole fruit.
  • If your child is older, allow them to serve themselves from a variety of options on the table. If they change their mind and don’t eat something they have chosen, that is okay.

Q: Is it okay for my child to go to bed hungry?

A: If your child has decided not to eat the meal you have made, they have chosen to go without food until the next meal. Refusing the meal has the natural consequence of becoming hungry. Becoming hungry will make the next meal more appealing. A short period of hunger will not do your child any harm. If he or she will not eat the food that is offered, let them know ‘the next meal time will be… (e.g. breakfast tomorrow)’.

Q: Is it okay to use a dessert as a reward?

A: No. Using dessert or other sweet snacks as a reward tells your child that eating healthy food choices at dinner is hard work that needs to be rewarded. This can cause children to see healthy foods as unpleasant and sweet foods (because they are used as rewards) as more attractive.

Q: Where can I get help if I need it?

  • Positive Parenting Program (Triple P)
    This is a free parenting program that promotes good communication between parents and children. The program looks at the causes of child behaviour problems and how parents and carers can encourage children to behave well.
    Contact: your local Child, Youth and Family Health Service.
  • Parentline
    Confidential telephone counselling service for parents and carers. Open 7 days a week between 8am and 10pm.
    Web counselling is also open on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 11am and 2pm.
    Contact: 1300 30 1300 or visit the website
  • Child Health Services
    Free professional services for families with children aged 0 to 8 years.
    Contact: your local Child, Youth and Family Health Services
  • Community Health
    Contact your local Child, Youth and Family Health Services. Referral to: Dietitian, Speech/Language Pathologist, Psychologist or Paediatrician via family GP for public hospital services or private services via telephone directory.
  • Phone 13 HEALTH (13 43 25 84)
     to speak to an experienced child health nurse.

For more information

  • O’Connell, J, Cummings, R & Ralston, R 2003, Eat right, don’t fight (book or eBook), Transworld Publishers. Reading level: Adult
  • O’Dea, Dr J 2005, Positive foods for kids (book or eBook), Transworld Publishers. Reading level: Adult
  • Nutrition Australia has a wide range of publications and fact sheets on nutrition. See the Nutrition Australia website or phone the Queensland branch on (07) 3257 4393.

Cooking and recipes

  • Seinfeld, J 2007, Deceptively delicious (book), Harper Collins. Reading level: Adult

Children’s booklist

  • Child, L 2000, I will never not ever eat a tomato, Candlewick Press. Reading level: Ages 4 to 8
  • Tofts, H 1998, I eat fruit, Zero to Ten Ltd. Reading level: From 2 years
  • Tofts, H 1998, I eat vegetables, Zero to Ten Ltd. Reading level: From 2 years
  • Ahlberg, J & A 1989, Each peach, pear, plum, Penguin Books Ltd. Reading level: Ages 9 to 12

Acknowledgement

This information is the result of input and effort from many health professionals in Queensland. Their assistance with the content is greatly appreciated.

This information is provided as general information only and should not be relied upon as professional or medical advice. Professional and medical advice should be sought for particular health concerns or events. Best efforts have been used to develop this information, which is considered correct and current in accordance with accepted best practice in Queensland as at the date of production. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not accept liability to any person for the information provided in this fact sheet nor does it warrant that the information will remain correct and current. The State of Queensland (Queensland Health) does not promote, endorse or create any association with any third party by publication or use of any references or terminology in this fact sheet.