What to do if your toddler is a fussy eater

Don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to fussy eating! Understand that there will be times when your toddler is simply not hungry and that healthy snacks are as essential for young children as meals. Add variety to your child’s diet and encourage them to eat home-cooked foods. Check out these solutions to help your fusser eater on their way.
Don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to kids and fussy eating!

There's lots you can do if your toddler or preschooler is a fussy eater.

What to do if your toddler is a fussy eater

Just bear in mind that there will be times when your toddler is simply not hungry and that healthy snacks are as essential for young children as meals.

Try to add variety to your toddler's diet and encourage them to eat home-cooked foods.

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to fussy eating

It may be challenging but make a real effort to make meal times a stress-free social occasion.

Try not to worry about your toddler not finishing their meal, about knocked-over drinks or a mess on the floor.

Give them positive feedback on the habits you want continued, rather than focusing on the negatives.

Serve your toddler the same meal as the rest of the family is eating and if they choose not to eat it, try not to lose your cool, simply remove the uneaten food and try again at the next meal time.

Don't offer alternatives to eat. If they're hungry they'll eat the food they have in front of them.

Sometimes seeing others eating the same food will persuade them to eat it too.

2. Make food fun for fussy eaters

Food and the experience of food should be enjoyed, even if it's not all eaten.

Discovering and enjoying food for a toddler or young child means touching, feeling, tasting and playing with food.

This can be messy, but if you expect it and prepare for the spills, the experience of food can be genuinely fun for your toddler and you!

For all children (but particularly fussy eaters), broaden the experience of food by not only focusing on the eating but all the other things food has to offer.

Think about food play, food preparation, growing food, cooking, the social aspects of food, food stories, food colours, textures and the learning potential around food.

By doing this your toddler will develop an appreciation for food and a positive attitude towards it.

3. Recognise your toddler's natural appetite

There will be days where your toddler is hungry and other days when they will hardly touch a thing.

So feed them when they’re hungry and let them eat less when they’re not interested. This way you will encourage your toddler’s natural appetite. Don’t worry they won’t starve!

The amount of food children need and their appetite depends on the speed at which they grow.

Babies grow rapidly! A 6 month old baby will gain one kilogram every eight weeks. But toddlers grow slowly in comparison and may take even six months to gain one kilogram.

Very simply; toddlers and small children don’t eat as much as babies because they don’t need as much, despite the fact that they may be very active throughout the day.

Understand that there will be times when your toddler is simply not hungry. Respect this and avoid forcing or coercing them to eat.

Acknowledge that if your toddler is sick, has a sore throat or is teething, this will have an effect on their appetite too.

4. Offer your fussy eater nutritious snacks

Understandably, parents become worried if their toddler’s appetite is small and will try to ensure adequate energy intake by offering snacks throughout the day. We have all definitely been guilty of this.

Snacks are as essential for young children as meals. Try to offer nutritious snacks, but as all parents know, taste and perception will ultimately influence whether it is eaten or not, so be creative.

Offering sugary or salty snacks throughout the day in an attempt to ensure your toddler is getting something to eat is likely to back fire.

Remember, snacks high in fat, sugar, salt or additives may ruin your child’s appetite (particularly if they are close to mealtimes), and toddlers and older children become less inclined to eat family meals when they know they will get tempting snacks as an alternative.

5. Add variety to your toddler's diet

If your toddler will only eat a few foods, try to increase the range of things they will eat gradually.

Persevere and try to introduce your fussy eater to a range of tastes, textures and colours.

Continue to offer their favourites, but include something new at each mealtime and praise your toddler for trying them.

If they won’t taste it this time, offer it again later. It may take 6-10 times before your toddler tastes something and eventually eats it.

Establish the 'one bite' rule for new foods. Let children know it is okay to not like something, but that it is important to try it before making up their minds. Say you 'don't have to like it, you just need to try it'.

Praise your toddler if they take a bite! Remember, you need to follow the one bite rule yourself. Be a positive model. Be honest if you don't like something and explain your reasons.

Visit the local farmers markets. Make it a weekend outing with your child. Farmers markets are a great place to experience a variety of foods as many stalls have tastings you can try before you buy. Ask the stallholders questions, learn what is in season, touch and taste the food and enjoy it.

6. Encourage your toddler to eat home-cooked foods 

Convenience and processed foods that are high in additives, salt, sugar and/or fat are not healthy for any of us.

Homemade food can be exciting and the great thing about home cooking is you know exactly what’s in it!

By limiting the amount of additives, sugar and salt you add to your toddler's food, you will help them learn to appreciate natural tastes.

7. Minimise distractions & make food & eating a priority

Make time for food and socialising as a family around food. Toddlers are more likely to concentrate on eating if you prioritise mealtimes.

Turn off the TV, sit down together and make the time for meals and eating.

Fussy eaters are more likely to join in if mealtimes are relaxed and fun, where your toddler sees you enjoying food and enjoying time together.

Toddlers can be involved in all aspects of the process from shopping together, growing stuff for the meal, setting the table, serving, eating and cleaning up.

It definitely takes time and is not always possible in today’s hectic lifestyle, but even if you sit down together for one meal a day, it will pay dividends in the long run and will teach your toddler to have a more positive appreciation of food.

8. The ‘challenge’ of independence

Try to support your toddler's move to independence rather than fighting it.

Offering choices is a really good way to keep the experience positive, empower them to make decisions and ultimately increase the likelihood your toddler will eat good food.

Encourage your toddler to eat by themselves, even if it means using fingers and making a mess. 

Try cooking with your toddler to give them a sense of involvement and achievement. That way even a fussy eater can make things just the way they like them.

Provide tools especially for them to do the job. Baking sets, plates and utensils designed just for small children. This supports your toddler's independence and allows them to feel involved throughout the process.

Respect your toddler's preferences (within reason). This may be something simple like removing the crusts from sandwiches or even avoiding foods touching each other.

By acknowledging your toddler's preferences you can make them feel more in control and increase the likelihood of them eating the meal. It will also go a long way to take the stress and conflict out of mealtimes.

9. Food presentation for fussy eaters

Food presentation can make all the difference between whether or not a toddler will eat food, particularly for those not so exciting foods.

Serving foods in funky bright-coloured dishes of different shapes and sizes looks fun and can encourage them to eat. Little minds love to be creative and stimulated.

10. Be prepared - it may take time!

Fussy eaters are often slow eaters who dawdle over their plate. It is pointless trying to hurry them.

Offer meals at regular times in a relaxed and happy atmosphere.

If your toddler has become used to picky eating, it may take some time to reverse things. Try to be calm, patient, and consistent.

If your toddler rejects the food, calmly clear it away and resist the urge to offer alternatives. Just try again another day.

Remember food often needs to be familiar before it is tried.

Acknowledge good behaviours and ignore the bad.

The best reinforcement is your relationship with food. Toddlers are more likely to want to eat the food their parents eat. As they get older, they tend to want the foods that their friends eat.

11. Rewards & incentives for fussy eaters

Using ‘treat’ foods like sweets and biscuits as bribes or rewards for good behaviour is very common. However it may not be an effective way of promoting healthy eating in the long term.

Consider non-food rewards for good eating, like going to the beach or to your child’s favourite toy shop.

12. Using supplements

Vitamin supplements can help if a toddler is really missing out on vital nutrients.

But they’re not a substitute for a balanced diet, so continue to strive towards healthy eating habits and seek professional advice if you are considering supplementing your child’s diet.

13. Getting help for fussy eaters

If your toddler's fussy eating doesn’t improve and is extreme it may be a good idea to get some advice from a GP or health professional.

They will be able to check your toddler's weight and general health, offer nutritional advice and if necessary refer you on to more expert help.

More kids food articles to enjoy:
Source: This article has been kindly written for us by Yum Yum Kids.
Image source: gurgle

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