Fun not Fuss with Food - Managing behaviour

Category: Child Health

Topic: Diet and Eating

Problem eating and mealtime behaviours are common in children. The behaviour of children at meal times is a common source of stress for parents and carers.

Examples of problem eating and meal time behaviours are when the child:

  • spits out food
  • refuses to come to the table
  • refuses to stay at the table during meals
  • whines or cries
  • fights at the table with siblings
  • gags or vomits.

Reasons for problem eating and meal time behaviours

  • Changes in hunger
  • Lack of routine
  • Unrealistic expectations for your child
  • Attention-seeking—your child may be provided with lots of attention when he or she does not eat or misbehaves at meal times
  • Lack of positive reinforcement—your child may receive little attention for good meal time behaviour

Questions for parents to consider

  • Which meal times are the biggest problems?
  • What makes these meal times different?
  • Which meal times work well? What is going on at these times?
  • Is your child less tired at the better meal times?
  • Is your child getting more attention because there is less adult conversation going on?

Your take-home strategies for success

Think about changes that you would like to see in your child’s or your own behaviour. Setting clear goals can help you make meal times more positive. Goals point you in the direction you want to head.

How to set your goals

A simple guide for setting goals is to make them ‘SMART

  • Specific—so it is very clear what you are aiming for
  • Measurable—so you will know when you have achieved it
  • Achievable—something you are able to do
  • Realistic—something that is practical for you and your child to achieve
  • Time-based—set with a time frame (e.g. by end of month)

An example of a goal is: ‘Jamie to try 1 new food each week’.


List those changes that you would like to see in your child's behaviour or your own behaviour. Make sure your goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-based.


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.