Stop asking your child – “what would you like for dinner?” – what to say instead to your fussy eater…

Day in day out, I see children with feeding difficulties and fussy eating difficulties. As a Paediatric Feeding Speech Pathologist and Feeding therapist, there are some common themes with the fussy eating population. And I would like to share a very common one….

Parent says – “What would you like to eat for dinner tonight?”

Child says – “I don’t know – maybe cheesy mac pasta?”

Parent says – “I made that last night for you and you didn’t eat it. What else would you like?”

Child says – “I know, chicken nuggets”

Parent says – “okay as long as you promise me you will eat it?”

Does some of this sound like what happens in your house? Here is why I find it challenging:

  1. Children often don’t know what they want so we are setting them up for failure if you present it on the table and then they change their mind. Making them promise to eat it essentially guilts them which is especially common for sensitive little kids.
  2. But more importantly, it’s NOT a child’s role to decide what is for dinner – it’s yours
Parents provide – children decide

Parents provide and children decide. That is the mantra I ask all of my families to start using. And honestly, it’s a game changer. I discharged a family I had been seeing for a while yesterday (I will miss seeing you Mr R and your adorable baby brother!). When I asked his brilliant mother what made the ultimate difference with her son’s fussy eating?

She said: “I no longer ask Mr R what he would like for dinner. I meal plan the meals and plate everything up – it’s up to him if he wants to eat it or not”. 

Gold stars for you gorgeous mama. You nailed it and guess what, her game changer in how she approached meals, meant that her son, Mr R started broadening the variety of food he ate and the ultimate discharge reason – he was willing to try new foods.

Yep – children don’t “recover” from fussy eating, they will always be on a journey of learning about new foods. The real long term change comes in their way of thinking and this is when I discharge patients from my caseload. When they are more willing to try new foods.

I know then, that this means that as long as the parent plates food with consideration and offers meals within a routine, their child will every day (or even every few days or weeks), explore a new food. They might not eat it all up – they might just take a few bites, but the important thing is that they have changed from a “refuse to eat anything new” child to a “willing to try new foods” child.

And for this Mr R – it meant, tasting vegetable soup with me yesterday in clinic, trying the family goal of pasta bake the night before and even better – eating a veggie burger at a restaurant with the family over Easter. Woohoo – so proud of you.

So take home messages?

  1. Stop asking your child what they would like for dinner
  2. Menu plan your meals so you don’t get to 5pm Tuesday night wondering what is for dinner – being organised does help (even if it’s working out Tuesday morning for is for Tuesday dinner).
  3. Eat the family meal with your child – don’t plate up different meals.
  4. Keep chipping away – as long as your child is exploring new foods, the variety and volume of food will ultimately come.
  5. And remember your game changer: parents provide and children decide

Wishing you happy and connected mealtimes with your child


Paediatric Feeding Speech Pathologist @ Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology

This website and information on this blog post is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant or intended to replace Speech Pathology assessment and management nor medical or nutritional care for a child. It is recommended that you discuss any concerns or questions you might have with your Speech Pathologist and managing Doctor and develop an individualised team plan specifically for your child.

About the author of this blog post

Valerie Gent is an Australian based Speech Pathologist with 15 years experience in Paediatric Feeding. She has opened a private practice called ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ in 2013 for Newcastle based babies and children with feeding difficulties. Valerie is passionate about working in the area of paediatric feeding and special needs and has been involved in the teaching and training of Australian Speech Pathology University students and allied health professionals. Prior to starting her private practice, she worked in acute paediatric hospitals in neonatal intensive care units, feeding clinics and clinics for children with special needs for 10 years. You can find out more about Valerie Gent and ‘Let’s Eat! Paediatric Speech Pathology’ via her website and Facebook page SpeechPathology or email her on 

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