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Toddler eating
First Years Jun 1, 2020
3 Minutes

A good reason not to stress about fussy baby + toddler eating

As parents, we all want our children to eat a good balanced diet of whole foods. Often however, it can be easier said than done. Babies and toddlers have very strong minds of their own! The immediate reaction as a parent can be to get stressed out, get demanding and restrict only to healthy foods. However, recent research published in the highly respected Paediatrics Journal suggests that we may not need to stress and inadvertently our actions can potentially make it worse. It adds weight (and reassurance) as to why being as relaxed as possible can be your best bet. Here’s what you need to know around the latest science tackling fussy toddler eating:

So, what even is ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ baby and toddler eating? 

I mean first off, what is ‘normal’?!

Typically there is no ‘normal’. As with most things, it is usually a sliding scale. However, the Paediatrics study defined it as:

‘eating a limited amount of foods, rejection of novel foods, and strong food preferences’.

Once again. There is a scale of this and you as a parent will know about how extreme or not this is in your own child.

It is common: 

Some form of fussy or picky baby or toddler eating is common. The study suggested that it is best tackled in the pre-school years as it doesn’t seem to shift much once it is habitual past 4yrs old. Despite that, it is concerning to us parents. That is normal.

Who is fussy or picky baby or toddler eating most likely to affect? 

There has been quite a bit of research done over time to analyse what/who and why is most susceptible to ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ eating. Typically (as always there are exceptions!) it seems to impact boys more. It also appears to be more common in lower income households.

On the flip side: ‘lower picky eating was associated with female sex, greater emotional regulation and lower emotional lability (rapid and exaggerated changes in mood).’

It has been linked to parental behaviour around food… 

There have been several studies linking maternal feeding behaviours (specifically restriction, demandingness and pressure) with picky eating. However, the extent that this makes an impact is not clear.

A good reason not to get overly stressed about picky or fussy baby or toddler eating: 

It seems that if your child is fussy or picky; pressuring them, restricting their diet only to ‘healthy’ foods and getting stressed out is not going to help. In fact, it may make it worse. Here is another reason why (unless it is at the very extreme) you should not stress:

Picky or fussy baby or toddler eating was not associated with deficient nutrients/being underweight in fact, it could even be protective: 

The study in fact showed that picky eating was not associated with micronutrient deficiencies. It also found that the BMI of picky eaters were generally stable and ‘in the healthy range’. The conclusion being that ‘parents may be reassured that they can take a less controlling approach to child feeding.’

It also found that typically these picky eaters were also protected from the equally dangerous higher BMI range.


Some children do seem predisposed to being picky or fussy when it comes to eating. Stress however is good for no one and this research suggests that the more relaxed we can be the better. That being said, there are degrees and if you are concerned and feel your child is struggling with their weight then the very first port of call should be your paediatrician.

Click here for some healthy recipe ideas to help combat picky baby and toddler eating and don’t stress if they want unhealthy things too that’s ok. This research suggests more relaxed you can be around it the better. If in doubt, get specialist support from your doctor.


Zucker NL, Hughes SO: The persistence of Picky Eating: Opportunities to Improve Our Strategies and Messaging: Paediatrics: May 2020


This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.

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