Give yourself permission to offer quick stress free meals to your child. If that is a picky tea in front of the tv or a bung in chicken nuggets and chips meal then know that meals like this are not going to harm your child! One of the best things we can do when working through feeding challenges is to create positive food and mealtimes experiences which will lay down positive associations. If you can acknowledge that fact and sit down and enjoy a meal that your child really loves you’re going to find that they come to the table happier at other times too. Which is a great step forward and will ultimately reduce stress by creating less resistance and more happy mealtimes.

With all that’s going on in our country, our economy, the world, and on social media, it feels like so many of us are under a great deal of stress. Parenting, in particular, can be stress-inducing. We know chronic stress can be as unhealthy as smoking a quarter of a pack a day. It is also challenging to be a present parent when your relationship is under stress. What are stress management strategies that parents use to become “Stress-Proof? What are some great tweaks, hacks, and tips that help reduce or even eliminate stress? In this interview series, we are talking to authors, parenting experts, business and civic leaders, and mental health experts who can share their strategies for reducing or eliminating stress. As a part of this series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lucy Neary.

Lucy Neary, The Early Years Dietitian is a paediatric dietitian, responsive feeding practitioner and Mum of 2 with over a decade of experience working within the NHS and private practice. Lucy is on a mission to eliminate outdated and widespread feeding myths and to turn the next generation into enthusiastic eaters who have a healthy relationship with their food, AND the parent in charge of providing it.

As a neurodivergent single parent of young children Lucy understands the difficulties that can arise from parenting children with emotional and sensory difficulties. This fuels her determination to assist parents struggling with fussy eating and other feeding challenges.

Lucy can be found at

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to know how you got from “there to here.” Inspire us with your backstory!

Being a dietitian feels like my calling really; a job I was always destined to do. I have been food obsessed all my life; all my childhood animals were named after foods and I have vivid memories of being in the kitchen creating delicious meals for my family. Despite my lifelong love affair with cooking and eating I went into office work first and worked various roles in big banks in the city throughout my 20s which I largely hated.

As a late teen I started having problems with one of my kidneys; excruciating pain which couldn’t be attributed to anything for a long time. I went on to finally have a third of it removed and the remaining kidney restructured in my early 20s but the chronic pain I was experiencing led me to start taking an interest in nutrition; a side of food I had never really never considered before. Food had always been solely about enjoyment prior to that.

I also took up and fell in love with running in my early 20s; something that further fueled my interest in how food made me feel. I started to consider what the food was doing and how it affected my training.

I was miserable in my job, I wanted to do something with meaning that used and excited my brain. I really needed to find a career path that would hold my interest (a very important thing for me — as I was later diagnosed with ADHD and realised unless I LOVE something I really can’t make myself do it!). After much researching to find my perfect life path I discovered dietetics and set about starting my 5 year journey to becoming a dietitian. It has turned out to probably be one of my best decisions to date.

What lessons would you share with yourself if you had the opportunity to meet your younger self?

I would share that it’s ok to take a different path. To not be the same as everyone else and that acceptance of yourself is all part of finding real happiness in life. Over the past 2 years I have started to talk much more openly about my motor tics and other symptoms of my neurodivergence that have felt like a huge burden throughout life. I’d love to go back and say ‘you know what, nobody is judging you and talking about things will take away their power over you’. I’d also love to say ‘you aren’t lazy, your executive functioning issues mean you just don’t know where to start so learn how to get around those issues and you’re going to fly’.

None of us are able to experience success without support along the way. Is there a particular person for whom you are grateful because of the support they gave you to grow you from “there to here?” Can you share that story and why you are grateful for them?

Yes, 100% it would be my Dad. I know that hero is a word used lightly these days, but he really was my hero; someone I looked up to for so many reasons. We lost him to covid in 2020 sadly, but he still has a huge impact on my life. I make decisions based on whether he would think my path is the right one.

Although he didn’t always give me forthright advice on what I should do he instilled in me a very strong sense that everything works out for the best in the end. I have a very positive outlook on life, annoyingly so to some I think, but I get that from my Dad and I see it as his gift to me.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think it might help people?

Yes, I am part of a very exciting start up called Sprout. We have released a personalised fussy eating app that is designed to show parents why their child is fussy and start them on the path to working through the difficult eating challenges that they are experiencing in small bites of information each day. It has the potential to transform people’s lives by reducing the stress they feel about their child’s eating and to help children become less anxious about eating. We won some funding from Innovate UK as our app is the first of its kind offering a solution to the hugely stressful situation that around 50% of parents find themselves in. The content is written by myself and a feeding psychologist, so we have a great mix of specialties on hand helping parents to turn their child’s eating around.

Ok, thank you for sharing your inspired life. Let’s now talk about stress. How would you define stress?

I would define stress as a state of feeling out of control, which impacts the emotional wellbeing and often physical wellbeing of an individual.

In the Western world, humans typically have their shelter, food, and survival needs met. So what has led to this chronic stress? Why are so many of us always stressed out?

I think that so many of us are stressed out because there are so many areas of life to keep on top of; we are juggling so many different balls and it can seem like an unsurmountable mountain to climb to keep them all in the air. I imagine the balls I’m juggling as glass or plastic; glass balls are going to cause more issues if they drop as they’ll smash. Problems arise when you have already dropped the plastic balls and there are still more glass balls than you can feasibly juggle. That’s when you start to really feel stressed.

I also think ‘survival’ means something different to us these days. We might not be in physical danger but the strains we have: managing our homes, ensuring our children thrive, holding down a job, socialising etc still manifest as stress even if they do not cause immediate danger. We feel like we aren’t doing our best at anything.

Having information in our pockets at all times nowadays has given us a sense of needing to know or having to do things immediately — but the reality is we all have very little time to implement what we need in life. I think that causes more stress. For example, if you take the work that I do, people can access information about how to help their child to enjoy food within minutes; but the practical application of that information, the support parents need and the structure of progressing with that learning takes time which can feel even more stressful for people as they want it fixed NOW.

What are some of the physical manifestations of being under a lot of stress? How does the human body react to stress?

Certainly for me I notice the lack of appetite, elevated heart rate and difficulty in focusing my thoughts. My executive functioning becomes almost non existent when I’m stressed!

Is stress necessarily a bad thing? Can stress ever be good for us?

I’m definitely not the expert here, but I think there can be some positives. Finding focus to progress with tasks, feeling energised by small amounts of stress. There’s also evidence that people cope with stress differently; if you’re someone who experiences some level of stress but can function well and doesn’t struggle that it won’t have such a negative impact as someone who finds any level of stress completely debilitating.

Is there a difference between being in a short-term stressful situation versus an ongoing stress? Are there long-term ramifications to living in a constant state of stress?

The issue with long term stress is it seems to give you a new normal — your body is constantly in fight or flight mode and you forget what it feels like to actually fully unwind and feel good so you don’t even try any more.

Let’s now focus more on the stress of parenting. This feels intuitive, but it is helpful to spell it out in order to address it. Can you help articulate why being a parent can be so stressful?

Parents just have so much to do, to remember and to know. There’s also so much information telling us how we should be doing things and as there is no right or wrong way and so many nuances to every single decision it can be incredibly difficult to know what to do for the best. I think we are so much more aware these days of the potential emotional outcomes for different parenting styles so parents feel more pressure to ‘get it right’ so that they aren’t impacting their child’s emotional development and their future.

Can you help spell out some of the problems that come with being a stressed parent?

Long term stress from the aspect of feeding children often makes the situation worse as it creates a vicious cycle of pressure, negative associations with mealtimes and increasing stress. It also has a wider impact on parents than just mealtimes as it can start to impact other areas of life. We see relationships being affected, the bond between parents and children can become strained when what feels like the most basic of human need/interaction feels broken and parents struggle to cope with the emotion that it brings. There can also be an underlying stress throughout the day; what will their child’s future look like, will their health be affected, will they grow properly, how will they socialise if they can’t eat with other people and so much more.

Here is the main question of our interview: Can you share with our readers your “5 stress management strategies that parents can use to remove some of the stress of parenting?” Please share a story or example for each.

The 5 biggest stress management techniques that will help with reducing the stress of feeding a fussy eater are as follows:

Try not to think about your child’s food intake for individual meals; instead think about everything that has been eaten over the course of a week or more. This will give a much truer representation and it’s likely that you’ll be less stressed about the situation. For example, your child might eat no vegetables at dinner which can feel catastrophic to parents, but if they’ve had fruit or vegetables at other meals or snacks it is likely that they’ve already met their nutritional needs.

Remove pressure (or encouragement) for your child to eat foods. The research is very clear in this area: the more you try to encourage the less a child will eat. When you take a step back and accept this fact, children often start to eat better which will help to reduce your stress levels overall.

Take 2 minutes before sitting down to a meal to take some breaths and reground yourself. Cooking dinner after a day at work can in itself feel stressful; you’ll start your meal already at 7 or 8 out of 10. If you put food on the table and then a child starts complaining or a drink gets spilled you immediately explode to a 9 or 10 out of 10. However, taking a couple of minutes of quiet time, to breathe and step away from the stress of cooking you can reduce your stress a few notches, even to a 5 or 6 when you come to sit down you are less likely to erupt!

Give yourself permission to offer quick stress free meals to your child. If that is a picky tea in front of the tv or a bung in chicken nuggets and chips meal then know that meals like this are not going to harm your child! One of the best things we can do when working through feeding challenges is to create positive food and mealtimes experiences which will lay down positive associations. If you can acknowledge that fact and sit down and enjoy a meal that your child really loves you’re going to find that they come to the table happier at other times too. Which is a great step forward and will ultimately reduce stress by creating less resistance and more happy mealtimes.

Finally I would say that one of the things parents really worry about is that their child isn’t growing well enough due to their eating and the vast majority of children that I see are perfectly healthy (both nutritionally and from a growth point of view). If you are stressing about your child’s growth, have their weighed and measured and plotted on the growth charts either with a doctor, health visitor or by a dietitian such as myself. We would be able to reassure you that everything is ok and remove that doubt from your mind. Even if there is an issue with the growth, there are always ways to address it.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that have inspired you to live with more joy in life?

I have to confess that I rarely listen or read much that isn’t related to nutrition or business (which I really should rectify for my own stress levels!!) but recently I really enjoyed 4000 weeks by Oliver Burkeman. It was a great reminder that life is short and we should spend our time wisely — mainly letting go of FOMO and doing what lights us up. I think we are all guilty of doing things ‘because we should’ and life is much happier if we can let go of that and fill our time with genuine interests and people we truly enjoy being around.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would LOVE for the legacy I leave behind to be this: to start listening to our children when they tell us that they are full and trust them to stop eating. We do this well with a breast fed baby — they cry to tell us they are hungry and then stop feeding to indicate that they are full. This is the perfect demonstration of self regulation (a human knowing how much food it needs). But sadly we lose that trust when solid food comes along and parents start with ‘one more mouthful’ or ‘you need to finish what is on your plate’ which encourages children to overeat and over time they lose the ability to know when to stop eating.

Allowing a child to self regulate and to only eat the amount they really need at each sitting leads to a far healthier relationship with food as children progress to adolescence and adulthood. If all adults still had the ability to do this, instead of finishing what was on their plates (as is ingrained in us!) it is likely that we would have a far healthier society with less chronic disease and less unnecessary early deaths That would make me very happy!

What is the best way for our readers to continue to follow your work online?

The best places to find me, where you’ll find useful information all about feeding and fussy eating is Instagram; both as The Early Years Dietitian and also Eat with Sprout.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We wish you only continued success.


  • Savio P. Clemente

    TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor

    Savio P. Clemente, TEDx speaker and Stage 3 cancer survivor, infuses transformative insights into every article. His journey battling cancer fuels a mission to empower survivors and industry leaders towards living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle. As a Board-Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), Savio guides readers to embrace self-discovery and rewrite narratives by loving their inner stranger, as outlined in his acclaimed TEDx talk: "7 Minutes to Wellness: How to Love Your Inner Stranger." Through his best-selling book and impactful work as a media journalist — covering inspirational stories of resilience and exploring wellness trends — Savio has collaborated with notable celebrities and TV personalities, bringing his insights to diverse audiences and touching countless lives. His philosophy, "to know thyself is to heal thyself," resonates in every piece.