Fussy eating advice

Should I give my child a snack between school pick-up and dinner time?

The answer is YES!

“But I don’t want to spoil their dinner/tea,” you might be thinking. “The hungrier they are, the more chance I’ve got of them eating what I make!”

You can’t hunger a fussy eater into eating!

A hungry child is often a grumpy, antagonistic child which sets you up for a difficult couple of hours leading up to dinner/tea time. And by the time they actually sit down at the table, their enthusiasm to eat and your patience will be compromised! Mealtime with your fussy eater is likely to go worse, not better.

Children don’t cope with a drop in blood sugar level as well as adults. If they had their lunch around 12 and you pick them up around 3, they are probably genuinely in need of something to eat!

So shall I make them finish anything left in their lunch box that they didn’t eat at lunchtime?

No – for three reasons!

1. If they see you check in their lunchbox to see what they haven’t eaten, it shows them how much you care and want them to eat it. This will backfire! Remember, the root cause of fussy eating is the attention and power they gain by NOT eating something. Don’t add to this!

2. It puts pressure on them to eat certain things. Again, this shows them how much you want them to eat something and invites them to battle it out with you.

3. It creates an unhappy, punitive atmosphere around food of “If you haven’t eaten your lunch, you can’t have anything else” or “It’s that or nothing!” (even if you don’t word it like this!).

What about a piece of fruit then?

Just fruit is not enough calories. So yes, give them fruit, – raw veg – but also a carbohydrate like breadsticks, rice cakes, oat cakes, crumpet or toast and a protein like some cubes of cheese, a piece of ham or a dollop of hummus. Don’t just stick to their no.1 favourite items every day. Vary it to expose them to a wider variety of foods, Perhaps they prefer apple to pear (but eat both) but that doesn’t mean you should always give them apple! Just make sure two of the three foods are ‘reliable’ ones (after all, you want them to actually eat and ease their hunger). The third one can be (a tiny amount – to avoid wastage!) of something they don’t currently eat to ‘expose’ them to it and get them gradually comfortable and familiar with it. Remember, they shouldn’t get to choose what their snack is. Even with snacks, you need to stick to the golden rule of You’re in charge of what to serve. They’re in charge of whether to eat it.

Wouldn’t it be easier just to grab a packet of crisps or a fruit yo-yo or something?

Yes – but their after-school hunger is an opportunity to get some good nutrition in them. Crisps are more or less ‘empty’ calories (even the children’s Pom-Bear’s type) and the processed nature of a fruit YoYo creates an intense, sweet flavour which blows real fruit out the water! Also, it teaches children that the ‘best’ food (the ones that give them that instant salty/sweet ‘hit’ on the tongue) comes out of packet – which makes it harder to get them to eat ‘real’ food! And coming home to an after-school snack that you have chopped/cubed/buttered and arranged on a plate contains a level of care and nurture that something grabbed and eaten from the packet does not have! 

But what if they pester for a biscuit, cake or sweets? 

Choose a day of the week to be ‘Treat Day’ after school – and stick to it like glue! They’ll soon stop pestering for these things on other days – and enjoy and appreciate their treat so much more. (Friday seems the obvious choice, but you might choose mid-week-dip Wednesday or the day they have gymnastics or a swimming lesson.)

And when exactly should I give them their snack?

As soon as you get home – although if this takes quite a long time, you could bring it in a tub instead. This gives them plenty of time to get just the right amount of hungry by dinner/tea time. 

If you found this useful, you might like to read My child pesters for snacks all day – what should I do?