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5 Tips for Parents with Fussy Eaters

By Research Psychologist, Dr Lucy Cooke

Young children eat what they like and they like what they know. In other words, the foods that children like to eat are the ones that they are most familiar with. Being faced with new, or unfamiliar foods can be anxiety-provoking and it’s common for young children to reject new foods, particularly fruits and vegetables.

Many children could be described as fussy or picky eaters, but the good news is that there are easy-to-implement ways to help to expand their palate which don’t involve tasting in the first instance. A promising development in the realm of child food education has been the emergence of a sensory approach to exploring and learning about foods, using sight, smell, hearing and touch as well as taste.

The key is to remove any fear and uncertainly around fruit and vegetables by making them familiar.  Helping children to use all five senses to explore food can engender wonder and excitement and encourage more adventurous eating.

Ideas for exploring fruit and vegetables using the five senses:


Start by looking at the different fruits and vegetables in the supermarket, or at home . Talk about the different shapes and colours.  Ask your child to describe what they see!  Which do they think look the nicest and why? 

2. Smell

Prepare a few kinds of fruit or veg - maybe a fresh slice of orange, a spoonful of sweetcorn, or some left-over cooked carrots.  Ask your child to smell each one with their eyes closed and describe the smell.  Then ask them to guess what it is!

3. Hearing

Get a selection of fruits and vegetables. Listen to the sounds they make when chopped on a board. Ask them to describe the sounds.  Are they loud or soft?

4. Touch

Select some fruit and veg and ask your child to touch and describe how the outsides feel are  they rough, soft, smooth or lumpy?  Cut some of them open and ask whether the inside feels the same or different to the outside.

5. Taste

Find some fruit or vegetables with contrasting tastes, say oranges and lemons. Ask your child to describe and compare the tastes. Are they bitter or sweet, salty, sour, or umami?  

Of course, taste plays the most important role in whether a child likes or dislikes food, and the more often a child has tasted a food the more likely they are to like it so it pays to persevere - something they dislike today may be liked tomorrow. Remember to only ever offer very small pieces to taste and never insist that your child eats it. Licking something counts as tasting when trying something new!

More Resources

Find more ideas about how to use the five senses to explore food with free resources such as charity TastEd’s range of activities and videos for parents.

Dr Lucy Cooke is a research psychologist specialising in children’s eating behaviour and expert advisor to Teach Your Monster:  Adventurous Eating, a free game which allows children to create a customised monster and take it on an journey exploring fruits and vegetables, paving the way for their own food adventures. www.teachyourmonster.org