Why does my child eat at child care but is fussy at home? {Guest Post}

So many parents struggle with fussy eaters! I know I was as a child!! 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. 

Thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge with us Simone, I know you are a busy lady!

*This post contains affiliate links :)

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. Thanks for asking me to answer this question for your readers, Lauren. As a feeding specialist and a parent, I am here to shed some light on this conundrum.

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 (or doesn’t pick-up) can include new foods include pain, sensory overwhelm, feeding routine reliability, anxiety, immature oral motor skills or gross motor development. 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 to. 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.

About the author:
Simone Emery is a feeding specialist that works clinically with problematic feeders in Sydney. She also writes the blog Play with Food. She is a mum to two funny, messy and pink-obsessed girls. She loves to blog about feeding kids, easy family recipes and lots of fun ways to make eating a positive learning experience.

In particular, if you are an educator/parent wanting more information from Simone about fussy eating in the group environment, check out her video here.
Or for more tips on toddler eating Simone has this video or click on either of the images below. 


Reading this post by Simone, reminded me of when I asked my mummy friends to share their funny stories of why their fussy eater wouldn't eat certain foods - and it gave us all quite a giggle! And later I called on my food blogger friends for some great sneaky veg recipes. If you missed it check it out here

Thanks again Simone. You can also find her here on Facebook, or Instagram
Lauren x


  1. Hi, loved this recipe,
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    here i am to learn from other blogger. Please visit my blog, Read how yogurt is a good food item thanks

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