11 transformative phrases to banish fussy eating for good

By Penelope Henderson, MSc, RNutr/ 02/03/2022
Parents using phrases to help overcome fussy eating

So as you know, trying to banish fussy eating is often an almighty and stressful struggle.  Particular demands like ‘I don’t like that plate’ or ‘that food looks yucky’ make it oh so tricky to even get food anywhere near their little mouths. 

What you say to them and how you say it can have such an enormous impact on whether they will eat and the relationship they form around foods. We can have a great influence on our children just by the way we talk to them around trying new foods, responding to fullness, empowering them and educating them. 

In this blog I will share with you 11 transformative phrases that every parent should try to banish fussy eating for good. 

1. Learning to like

How many times do you hear or say for example ‘my child is such a fussy eater – they dont like vegetables’.  If we label them as a ‘picky eater’ or ‘fussy eater’ then they probably will believe they are. 

There are many reasons why children become fussy and some of the common ones are explained here in my blog

Explaining to your child that its a journey of discovery and trying new foods takes time and they will learn to like new foods as they grow older. Instead you could say they are learning to like vegetables or or trying lots of new foods rather than ‘Sam is a fussy eater’. 

2. What do you think?

By saying ‘what do you think?’ it provides an opportunity for discussion about whether they like it and if not what it is about it they do or don’t like. 

Use ‘What do you think?’ instead of do you like it?

This provides valuable feedback for future meals. Also how meals could be simply adapted a little to make it more appealing for them. 

3. You don’t have to eat it

This takes the pressure away from the child having to eat the food, knowing that its up to them whether they want to eat it or just take a little. You can say this if they are looking for confirmation or not very happy about what’s on the plate. 

Also, by saying this phrase it can stop the anxiety and stress before it turns into a battleground of whether your child eats or not. 

You could say instead, you could ‘touch it, lick it etc…. If you like. These are some of the steps to eating which can be worked through. Further info can be found in my steps to eating blog.

child not eating

4. You can…

By saying you can…you are letting them know they can do certain things and empowering them to try. For example saying  ‘you can.. try a bit when your ready’. 

Or another example saying ‘you can….spit it out’. You are allowing your child to try the food without pressure to swallow it and this is a step forward towards banish fussy eating. 

Often its vegetables which are the hardest for kids to try. However there are many ways to expose them to vegetables and opportunities to say things like ‘You can….touch this vegetable or ‘You can smell it’. 

5. … Yet

This phrase emphasizes the journey of trying new foods. So by saying ‘you tried it but dont like it yet – suggests they will eventually like it. There is a possibility there for liking the new food but just not yet.

6. I can see you have finished, are you sure your tummy is full? because remember we are not eating again until…

Children are often very good at knowing when they are full or they will stop eating because they are distracted, want to go and do something else or simply don t like whats been served. 

This phrase gives a reminder to them about listening to their fullness cues. 

Or If they are not full then they will have to wait until the next meal or snack time. So you have given them the opportunity to eat. 

7. I wonder….

If your child is beginning to stress about a particular feature of the food or meal such as the shape, texture, colour etc of the food. You could use this phrase to engage with them positively. 

For example you could say.. I wonder if we could cut this differently or I wonder how could we make this better for you?

This will hopefully make the food seem more acceptable to them and hopefully make it easier to try it. It could be a simple accompaniment like ketchup sauce or a little cheese on top to keep them happy. 

8. That was a big reaction 

Does your child often say things like ‘That’s disguising’ or ‘Yuck’ If so you can comment on their reaction to the new taste rather than react to the fact they don’t like it. By commenting on their reaction it confirms they don’t like the food. 

You can then follow up with another phrase like one of these ‘It takes time to get used to xyz’ or ‘you will learn to like xyz’. Or ‘I can see you don’t like it yet’.  

child making a yuk face and big reaction
Photo of ‘That was a big reaction’.

9. It takes time to get used to xyz.

If they try a food but say they don’t like it then its fantastic they have been brave enough to try it but you don’t need to go overboard with the verbal reward and certainly no need for reward charts, stickers, etc. 

Its best to say. ‘Its great you have been brave enough to try xyz but it takes time to get used to it’. This rewards them for being brave to try the food but also lets them know it takes time to get used to new foods and we don’t always like them straight away. 

I bet you can think of a number of foods you disliked as a child but eventually learned to love as an adult. I certainly can, mushrooms was one and so was olives. So it is good to know that we can banish fussy eating but it just takes time. 

10. Next mealtime or snack will be… 

mealtime clock

If they haven’t eaten much (or anything) at their mealtime then by letting them know how long until the next meal or snack time will help them to start regulating their appetites.

Also if they ask for a snack just before a mealtime then you can again let them know that the ‘next mealtime will be in x time’. So you will have to wait until then because we need to be hungry at mealtimes. 

If you struggle with a child who grazes a lot then you could consider offering some veggies (such as raw veggies) as a snack just before mealtime.  This way you know they have had some veggies as part of their meal. 

Here is a simple tomato, pepper and chickpea dip recipe that could be used as a snack or part of a meal. 

11. We will be having xyz for tea..

Do your children often come to the table for their meal and look at what it is and say they dont want it? For some children it can help to say what will be served for tea so they are prepared with what’s coming and there are no surprises. 

You could also ensure they have at least one thing in the meal they like so you know there is something they will eat. 


By using these suggested 11 phrases it is possible to banish fussy eating, alongside other feeding strategies. It will take time to adjust and remember to use these phrases. You could have a checklist as a reminder and when you use some of them tick them off and add notes to how it went. 

If you have tried some of these phrases I would love to know how it went. What difference did it make to their eating? please comment below.

If you’re also looking to get simple, step-by-step strategies for feeding your child so that you can have stress free mealtimes, check out my Master Your Mealtimes e-course.

Whats included in Master your mealtimes e-course


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Author Penelope Henderson

Hi I’m Penelope Henderson RNutr Registered Nutritionist specialising in children’s nutrition and responsive feeding therapy.

I am a mum of 2, with over 15 years of experience in nutrition. I support parents to feel confident in how and what to feed their child. I hope you find my recipes and nutrition posts useful, so you can enjoy stress free cooking and mealtimes.

More about me

free guide to 6 steps to calm and happy mealtimes

6 steps to calm and happy mealtimes

Say goodbye to dreaded mealtimes and hello to stress-free meals, where you can enjoy family time without the fuss!

Inside, you’ll discover:

> How to set up successful mealtimes

> Easy ways to get them exploring and eating a wider variety of foods

> How to get them eating more, so you’re not throwing it away!

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