Lauren Hunt asked me to elaborate on this common parenting conundrum, why do kids eat so well at daycare and then refuse meals at home? Why are they great eaters for others but are fussy for me?

Lauren said….So many parents struggle with fussy eaters! A perplexing issue that seems to be quite common is that fussy eaters are happily gobbling up their meals choc full of meat and veggies at Child Care, but turning their nose up at it at home. So frustrating!! So I called in Nutritionist & Feeding Therapist Simone from Play with Food to give her insight as to why this is a thing, and what we can do about it

My Response:
Day care and home are two very different environments for some children. And often parents can be left wondering why there is such a change in eating behaviours between the two.

What is fussy eating?
The definition of fussy eating is not a firm-fixed in place definition. It depends on the family. It depends on the child. It depends on the relationship. It depends on expectations.

However, for feeding specialists we look for some red flags for feeding so we can point parents in the right avenues for assistance. These red flags include not meeting feeding milestones, not transitioning to soft foods (ie away from purees), dropping whole food groups, eating less than 20 individual foods, anxiety or stress in the home environment and when caregivers are arguing over feeding. When these red flags are flying, seeing some assistance is wholeheartedly recommended.

Root causes for why a child initially starts dropping foods (or doesn’t eat new foods to start with) can include

*pain / medical / illness

*sensory overwhelm,

*feeding routine reliability,


*immature oral motor skills

*gross motor development

*Developmental cognitive changes related to effort

These lists are not exhaustive but may help you start to realise the complexities of eating that every child faces, let alone has to coordinate to “get right”.

Day care has routines. A pre-meal routine. A sit down routine. A serving routine. A group eating routine. A clean-up routine. Children love a routine and thrive off of reliability that a routine brings. It establishes a sound platform to learn from. Routines at day care often help children unpack emotions or disengage from the task they were doing immediately before taking on the large task of eating. When a child has an abrupt transition from one activity to the next, they struggle to mentally take that leap too. Exercise and big movement between activities (like kangaroo hopping/bear walking/snake sliding to the bathroom to wash hands) can easily reset a child and get them ready for a new task.

The group dynamic is a powerful thing. Eating is a social experience. We learn from others. We are encouraged by others and we can also pick up habits from others at meals – good and bad. The less pressure there is in the group environment to eat (including excessive positive praise) the more the child independently decides on strategies to learn about foods. Focusing on enabling appropriate strategies is much more useful for parents and educators than applying positive or negative pressure to eat.

So, yes, this combination of group environment and routines can often lead to greater acceptance of more foods. But maybe not always …

When it doesn’t work…
Sometimes the impending eating routine can trigger food neophobia and performance anxiety for problematic eaters. They may not have foods on offer that they can succeed at. Or struggle with the sensory inputs / overwhelm of eating in the group environment. Or there is a perceived pressure to eat. Either way, it’s important to investigate the “why” behind food refusal either at home or at day care / school.

So, as with most things with kids it’s a mixed bag, yet, it is very important to consider their individual needs, their triggers and working together to make eating a positive learning, social experience.

Recommended Articles

Taming toddler mealtime tantrums and tools to bring to the table

Why my child is fussy about meat

Why vegetables are harder for kids to eat


Link to Simone’s consult packages, book and parenting video resources (the toddler feeding video might be right up your alley!).


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