Sending your child to nursery for the first time can be a stressful experience, and it's even more nerve-wracking if your child is a picky eater. What if they refuse to eat or make a fuss at mealtimes? You want to know that your child is eating enough to stay healthy, feeling comfortable during meals and not causing too much trouble for nursery staff.

Luckily, there are a few ways you can help prepare your child for eating at nursery, ensuring things run as smoothly as possible. Try not to let your anxiety show when you're interacting with your child—they'll pick up on this and might see eating at nursery as something scary or bad. Set a positive example as much as you can.

Ask for a sample menu and prepare the same meals at home

Being in a new environment can be very stressful for children, so having to eat unfamiliar food on top of this might feel like too much. Prepare your child by asking for a sample menu from the nursery and preparing similar meals at home. You could even ask to attend the nursery during mealtimes before your child starts, so you can see exactly how the food is prepared and served. Small details like the way food is arranged on the plate, whether different foods are touching or how certain foods are cut up can make a big difference to a child who's picky about eating. Make your meals at home as similar as possible, and prepare for a few tantrums while your child gets used to the change. It's better to get the tears over with at home!

Start using a tray similar to those at nursery

Most nurseries will serve food on a tray, with sections for the main course, a side dish and a dessert. Drinks may be served in plastic cups or cartons. Trays like this are widely available to purchase and are a great way to introduce your child to the idea of their new eating environment. Allow them to pick a tray in a design they like—this could be their favourite color or a design related to a cartoon character they like. Start using the tray during mealtimes, and present it as a fun treat to build positive associations.

Ask about sending in packed lunches

It's best to be prepared for the worst, as some children really struggle with eating prepared meals at nursery. Ask the child carers about their policy on bringing in packed lunches, and be ready to start sending your child to nursery with sandwiches if necessary. Staff will encounter plenty of picky eaters, so they should be understanding. You could agree on a policy where they encourage your child to eat a prepared lunch, but give them a packed lunch if they refuse to co-operate. This gives your child the chance to develop their eating skills without any risk of them going hungry,