By Cathy Monaghan RD MINDI Paediatric Dietitian.

What is Child Autonomy?

Child autonomy refers to the idea of allowing children to make age-appropriate decisions and have some level of control over their own lives, within the boundaries set by parents or caregivers. 

This concept recognises that children have their own preferences, desires, and needs, and it encourages parents to respect and support their child’s growing independence. 

When it comes to helping fussy eaters, child autonomy can be a valuable approach.

Here’s how child autonomy can help with fussy eaters:

Empowerment: Allowing children to make choices about their food can empower them and make them feel more in control of their eating habits. This can lead to a sense of ownership over their decisions and a willingness to try new foods.

Reduced Resistance: When children feel like they have some say in what they eat, they may be less likely to resist mealtime and engage in food-related battles with their parents. This can create a more positive mealtime atmosphere.

Exploration: Child autonomy encourages children to explore different foods at their own pace. They may be more open to trying new foods if they have the freedom to do so without pressure.

Healthy Habits: By allowing children to make choices within a range of healthy options, parents can guide them toward nutritious foods while still respecting their autonomy.


To implement child autonomy with fussy eaters:


  1. Offer Choices: Provide options within the realm of healthy foods. For example, ask if they want broccoli or carrots with their meal, or if they prefer apples or oranges for a snack.

  2. Let Them Serve Themselves: Depending on their age, allow children to serve themselves from the dishes on the table. This gives them control over portion sizes and helps them become more comfortable with different foods.

  3. Involve Them in Meal Planning: Include children in meal planning and preparation. Let them help choose recipes, shop for ingredients, and even assist with cooking. This involvement can make them more interested in trying the final product.

  4. Be Patient: Child autonomy may not yield immediate results. Children might still be hesitant to try new foods, and that’s okay. The goal is to create a positive environment where they feel comfortable exploring their food preferences.

  5. Set Boundaries: While it’s important to respect a child’s autonomy, parents should also set limits on things like junk food or excessive sugary treats. Provide guidance on healthy choices and explain the importance of balanced nutrition.


Remember that child autonomy should be age-appropriate. Younger children may have fewer choices, while older children can have more say in their food decisions. 

The key is to strike a balance between allowing them to exercise their autonomy and ensuring you provide the nutrients needed for each stage of growth and development.

Patience, encouragement, and a positive attitude toward food exploration are essential when dealing with fussy eaters. If you would like individual support, please consider a 1:1 Consultation or for 12 months group support please check out my Toddler Membership.