Fussy eating can be an entirely normal stage of your child’s development and it’s important not to get anxious or worry about it. This stage has been referred to as food neophobia, which is a fear of new foods and children often go through this stage around the age of two. Fear not however - most toddlers will eat enough to keep them going even if they are refusing certain foods at meal times. Focus less on what your child eats over the course of a day and more on what they eat over the course of a week.
Here are our top tips for mealtimes with a fussy toddler:
Encourage lots of active play and exercise
Rushing around and playing lots of games will encourage your child to have a good appetite for meal times.
Eat as a family when you can
Your toddler might want to only eat foods he/she has already tried as the unknown can be scary. By sitting down to meal times as a family, your toddler will see you eating different foods and will want to copy you or their siblings. We suggest you serve yourselves from dishes placed in the centre of the table which will make them even more inclined to join in.
Tell your toddler how much you're enjoying the food you're eating. You’re his role model, so if you're enthusiastic your toddler may be more willing to try them.
Practice positive reinforcement and let your toddler know how happy you are with him when he eats well. He'll enjoy the praise and it may encourage him to continue eating well. If you only give him attention when he's not eating, he may start to refuse food just to get a reaction.
If he doesn’t finish his meal within about half an hour, take the uneaten food away without commenting. He is unlikely to suddenly finish it. Just accept that he's had enough and move on.
Avoid eating in front of the TV or other distractions
Eat away from distractions such as the television as it will make it harder for your toddler to concentrate on eating. Make mealtimes a happy occasion by chatting about lots of different things. Try to talk at a level that your toddler can understand so he can join in.
Make mealtimes consistent
Keep to regular meal and snack times as toddlers thrive on routine and enjoy knowing what to expect. If you’re toddler gets too tired, he may not want to eat so keep their energy levels topped up throughout the day.
Split lunch and dinner across two courses
At lunch and dinner, offer your toddler a savoury course followed by a nutritious dessert, such as fruit. After one course, he may be bored with one taste and want to try something new.
Two courses also offer your toddler two chances to take in the calories and nutrients he needs. Plus, he'll experience a wider variety of foods at each meal.
However, never bribe your toddler to eat the savoury course with the promise of the sweet one. This will only make him want the savoury foods less.
Give small portions
Toddlers can be overwhelmed by big platefuls and lose their appetite. If your toddler finishes his small portion, praise him and offer him more.
Your toddler will likely indicate to you when he’s full by:
keeping his mouth shut when offered food
saying “no” or turning his head away from the food being offered
pushing away a spoon, bowl or plate containing food
refusing to swallow food or spitting it out
trying to climb out of his high chair
If your toddler is showing signs of being full, simply take his plate away, even if he hasn't had very much. He’ll probably fill up at the next meal or snack time if he isn't interested now.