How to Deal with Fussy Eater? An Environment to Nurture Healthy Eating Habits

If we ask ourselves, ‘’Are fussy eaters born that way or do they develop the habit through the environment?’’. It’s a classic case of nature vs. nurture.

According to Myles Faith, a professor of psychology in the United States who was also a co-writer for the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, answered that both genetics and influence from the environment might affect how children eat. Well, we couldn’t do much about genes, but we still can do something about the environment.

An Environment to Nurture Healthy Eating Habits

The quality and accessibility of foods available play a fundamental role in building healthy eating habits.

Imagine a child growing up in an environment where the fridge is stocked up on fresh vegetables and fruits, no sweets or soft drinks available in the cupboards, meals and snacks prepared healthily, versus another child who grows up eating sweets and soft drinks frequently, stays clear of anything green or leafy and eats fast food almost every day.

Do you think it’s easy to predict which child will be more likely to grow up to be someone who will include vegetables and fruits in their diet and be less of a fan of processed and fast food? 

Do It Now, Not Later

It’s important to start young when teaching any habits, including eating habits, especially considering that most children develop habits by age nine, and both good and bad habits can be hard to break.

This is because when we develop and repeat habits, a chemical messenger in our body, dopamine is released to the brain, causing a feeling of pleasure and this strengthens the habit. Take advantage of the children’s formative years and help nurture the healthy habits as they mature.

Considering that the majority of meals are taken at home, especially from young children, it is essential that parents and family members are aware of the importance of bringing healthy foods into their homes and ensuring their children have access to them.

Create Environment that Promotes Healthy Eating Habits

Stock up healthy foods at home

Choose whole foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, fresh produce and groceries with as minimal processing as possible.

Processed food such as sausages, ham, canned food, instant noodles, junk food and soft drinks contain high amount of salt, sugar, preservatives and food additives. So they must be reduced. The foods available in your fridge, freezer, cupboards and pantry are what the children will get used to eating.

According to a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it takes 18 to 254 days for a person to form a habit and on average, 66 days for the new behavior to become automatic. From here, we can see that it takes as short as around 3 weeks and the most around 1 year to develop a good eating habit and only around 2 months to make it natural. 

Encourage regular meal and snack times

Not just the types and amount of food that is important to be aware of - the timing of meals matters too! Try creating a healthy routine by having regular meals and snack times everyday. For example, if the children are allowed to eat whenever they feel like it, they may not be hungry when it’s time for a scheduled meal or snack. Also, overeating may occur if they skip meals when they are too occupied with their games or playtime activities. 

Encourage family meals

Children who eat meals with their family tend to eat what the family eat. They are also at lower risk for becoming overweight and childhood obesity as compared to children who eat in front of the TV, who tend to have poorer choices of food as well as affected food mastication and digestion as they will be more focused on the screen. 

Avoid pressure

Insisting on eating certain foods may actually bring negative effects where children might avoid that food even more. On the other hand, try offering a variety of healthy foods and let the children serve and choose for  themselves without any pressure.

Being a role model

Parents can influence their children’s eating habits in a positive way by being a good role model.  How to expect your children to have good eating habits when the adults have none? Actions speak louder than words, children always look up to the adults in whatever they do, so practice healthy eating habits and your children will follow. 


Both ‘’nature’’ and ‘’nurture’’ cannot be discounted when it comes to developing a healthy eating habit. Therefore, instead of just blaming everything on “nature”, where some may say, “It’s normal, it’s in the gene,” do not forget that we can always “nurture” a healthy eating habit from a young age.

Prepared by 
Koh Lian Xi
Final Year Student, 2022
BSc (Hons) Dietetics with Nutrition,
International Medical University (IMU)

Checked by
Mohd. Siddeq Azha,
Diet Ideas Sdn. Bhd.

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