Social situations: tips for challenging eaters

It’s November which means Christmas songs in the shops and a million family dinners, BBQs (in the southern hemisphere) and CHRISTMAS DINNER are coming!!

If you really want to get on top of your child’s eating aversions and challenging eating you can book a free initial consultation with me (via telephone for NZ or online worldwide).  If you’re not quite ready for that step, here are some tips.


With a challenging eater, eating at a restaurant can be a total minefield! The hot chips are too fat/thin/a funny shape, there’s a speck of herb on the food, it “looks wrong” or something new and “yucky” is touching the food they do like, making it completely inedible! Any of these things (and a million others) can cause a complete meltdown or refusal to eat anything!  It’s not just unknown restaurants and cafes either – family dinners, old favourites who change their recipes or one missed instruction all can cause chaos, stress and ruin a family evening out.


  • Be organised. Check out the menu online before deciding where to go. Make sure there’s something on the menu they will eat.
  • Don’t be shy. Check with the staff what will actually be on the plate (do you want to risk a pile of coleslaw being piled half over the hot chips?) When you’re out in public you can ask if your child wants to try something new but don’t out too much pressure on them, it will just ruin everyone’s night.
  • Eat early: it’s much less stressful to eat when your child isn’t overtired and they’re much more likely to try new food. Also, when the restaurant is full is a lot more stressful than when it’s quiet and mostly just other families.
  • Give lots of praise for success. A few bites are better than none.

These parents are really loving being able to eat out without stress for the first time!!

“Watching him walk with his older siblings to get food and engaging in trying foods out.”

“We can now eat out at nice restaurants with the confidence there will be something she likes or is willing to try on the menu. We no longer stress and worry that she is not getting enough nutrients in her diet.”

Take-a-plate events, BBQs, camping or staying at a batch with family or friends.

They all come with unknown food and the potential for a meltdown. Maybe Auntie bringing the potato salad puts in eggs, there’s sauce on the chicken or there’s no oven to cook the nuggets! Here are some tips on surviving a social dinner at a relative’s, at the batch or camping.


  • Plan ahead: if you know your child likes a certain potato bake, vegetable dish, type of meat or salad bring that instead of a pudding to bring a plate events. Bring them a little lunchbox with some food you’re happy for them to eat. It’s not rude and you know they’ll be fed – you can always look at the food options together and ask if what they want to try too.
  • Keep opening doors: Always offer something new and give a couple of choices. If you assume they won’t try so don’t offer then they definitely won’t try it!
  • Eat early: it’s much less stressful to eat when your child isn’t overtired and they’re much more likely to try new food.
  • Give lots of praise for success. A few bites are better than none.
  • Whether you’re camping or visiting, make sure there’s going to be something they can eat. Small amounts of what they’re used to and small amounts of something new is perfect. They can always ask for more afterwards.

These parents are enjoying seeing their kids eating more at family gatherings

“enhanced his life and made meals times more pleasurable.”

“A while back he would not even consider eating eggs but at a recent family gathering he has a load of potato salad that was made with egg. You could clearly see the egg and he had several bowls.”

Overcoming food aversions can be so hard on your own! It’s tough on the kids and the parents: I get asked “why are they like this?”,  told “I think it’s my fault” but I also get told regularly “it’s been a concern since they were a baby”. At that age, babies aren’t “naughty” or “trying it on”, so if your baby acts as though they are terrified – they probably are! Most children and toddlers go through a “picky” or “fussy” stage, but 25% of them don’t come out of it without support. That’s a lot of children who need support to overcome their fears! If you want to see what Little Bites can do for your challenging eater get in touch here or on facebook.