SUNDAY January 30, 2022: Australian parents have admitted to cooking multiple meals for ‘fussy eaters’; bribing kids with technology and sweet food to eat their dinner and feeding the family unhealthy takeaway for the sake of convenience. 

New research conducted by HCF Australia of parents with children under 18 at home, published to coincide with the start of the 2022 school year has found: 

  • Seven in ten (69%) parents say they have a child who is a fussy eater
  • Amongst parents with a fussy eater, two in five (41%) say they often have to prepare two or more additional meals at dinner time to accommodate for fussy eaters
  • More than half of parents (56%) admit to bribing their children with screen time if they eat their main meal, with these parents saying they do this 2.3 days per week on average
  • More than three in four parents (77%) say their family faces barriers to healthy eating
  • The vast majority (96%) of parents admit their family eats takeaway food that they know is not healthy because it is fast and convenient 

The study of more than 2,500 Australians highlights the common barriers many families face when it comes to providing healthy meals for growing children. 

HCF Chief Officer Member Health, Julie Andrews, said families didn’t need to battle the pressure of mealtimes alone. 

“Our research found a staggering 77 per cent of parents find meal time difficult or stressful for their family, with almost half finding dinner the most stressful meal,” Ms Andrews said. 

“At HCF we want parents to know that they’re not alone, and that there is help at hand.” 

Eligible HCF members have access to the Healthy Families for Life program, which is designed to encourage kids to develop positive eating habits for growth and development. 

“We know that setting kids up with strong nutritional foundations early in life can help reduce the risk of chronic conditions in their future,” Ms Andrews said. 

“It’s also important we encourage parents to role model healthy eating behaviours themselves, to make sure everyone in the family is develoing healthy habits to last a lifetime.” 

Dietitian Dr Jane Watson from Healthy Families for Life said it was important to acknowledge that feeding children could be challenging. 

With the research finding that working parents were twice as likely to bribe kids with screens to eat their main meals, Dr Watson said interfering with hunger and fullness cues could be problematic. 

“Allow your child to get hungry between meals and snacks, then offer them the foods you’d like them to eat, alongside smaller portions of those they already eat,” Dr Watson said. 

“Almost half of the parents surveyed said dinner was the most stressful meal, which is a catch-22: mealtimes are unlikely to go well when parents are stressed.” 

Dr Watson suggests the following tips to help mealtimes go smoothly: 

  • Take short-cuts: Have quick meals or leftovers or even a ‘picnic’ dinner
  • Keep it simple: Don’t expect yourself to prepare a gourmet meal. There are plenty of quick options that provide as much nutrition as meals that take hours to prepare
  • Be realistic: Keep your high expectations for days you can meet them. Maybe one meal on the weekend could be something that takes a bit more time. On other days, provide the food you can and enjoy eating with your child.
  • Create a pre-meal routine: Let everyone know that it’s almost time to eat and to finish whatever they are doing. This might mean putting toys away, turning off screens or finishing whatever they are doing. Follow this with getting ready to eat washing hands and setting the table. A routine helps everyone get ready for a meal in a predictable way.
  • Plan ahead: Planning meals ahead can save money, time, reduce stress, improve nutrition and contribute to calmer mealtimes. Meal planning avoids the end-of-day panic about what’s for dinner and helps the sometimes-fraught afternoon/evening run more smoothly.
  • Expect that kids may eat nothing at all for that meal: If children are tired, not hungry or not in the mood for eating, they are unlikely to eat much (if anything). All you can do is offer the family meal and include at least one food your child will usually eat. Let them know it’s ok if they don’t want to eat it, but don’t offer anything else.
  • Remember: it’s not what they eat at each meal, but what they eat over a few days or a week that matters. If your child is in the habit of not eating anything for dinner, consider what may be contributing to this and explore strategies that either increase their hunger and/or support them to be able to sit calmly at the table during the family meal. 

“When mealtimes become difficult and parents feel they need more support, it’s important that parents seek help,” Dr Watson said. 

“Good support will give parents and carers strategies for calmer mealtimes, dealing with food refusal and supporting their children to establish lifelong eating patterns for healthy growth and development.” 


*Editor’s note: Please attribute all data and statistics to HCF Australia. 


Dr Jane Watson is available to speak further about family nutrition, including ‘fussy eaters’; lunchbox battles; and to share tips for families wanting to improve mealtimes. 

Media Enquiries: Rebecca Page 0439130400 

HCF, Australia’s largest not-for-profit health fund protecting Australians since 1932, covers over 1.75 million members with health and life insurance, and travel and pet insurance. On average over the last five years, HCF has paid out more cents in every dollar in premiums to members as benefits than the industry average. To learn more about HCF go to

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2579 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 29th October - 3rd November 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Australian adults (aged 18+). 

Healthy Families for Life gives parents and carers the freedom to choose from a range of support options for child and family nutrition, from easy to read articles and everyday tips, advice and resources, to expert clinical care and additional support. For more information, visit: