Dealing with a fussy eater
It can be frustrating having your culinary creations thrown to the side, but with time and positivity your toddler’s fussy eating should come around.
At a glance
Almost all toddlers will go through a fussy phase at some point
If your little one is healthy and gaining weight, try not to worry
Stay positive. Praise good eating but try to ignore negative responses
Eating together means you can set good examples
Top tips for fussy eaters
As long as they are healthy and gaining weight, they’re probably getting enough to eat, so try not to worry. If in doubt, focus on the three Ps of mealtimes: patience, positivity and perseverance. In time your toddler might venture into uncharted food territory all by themselves.
You may already know, but it’s recommended that children up to five years old have daily, age-appropriate vitamins or supplements on top of their varied diet. Vitamins A, C and D are very important while they’re growing.
Set regular mealtimes
Young children find set routines reassuring. It also helps set their body clock for the day. So, their stomachs are ready for their next meal. Not hungry enough or too hungry and you’re more likely to get a negative reaction.
Serve small portions
Large portions can be overwhelming for your toddler. Start with a baby-bear-sized bowl and you can always top them up if they’re hungry for more. Here’s a handy visual portion guide for children from 12 months.
Make food toddler-friendly
Cut sandwiches into fun shapes, arrange things into pictures on a plate (faces, trains, cats) serve fruit in ready-to-eat, bite-sized pieces, or puree and freeze it into ice lolly moulds. We all eat with our eyes first.
Make food fun for fussy toddlers
Let your toddler help in the kitchen. They might like dressing up as a mini masterchef or a little star baker - with their very own equipment, apron and chef hat. Talk to them about the different colours and textures of the food and get them to show off what they’ve made to the family.
Ignore fussiness and praise good eating. Flying florets may still take off now and again but if your toddler doesn’t get a big reaction, they may well relent and tuck in.
Offer new tastes
Introduce new flavours one at a time, in small amounts. Don’t worry if a certain food is rejected. Leave it off the menu for a few days and try again.
Preparation is everything
A toddler who refuses cooked carrots might well polish off a bowlful of raw grated ones, so try different options for rejected foods.
Take it slow
Some toddlers eat very slowly and rushing could put them off.
Try to eat meals as a family so your toddler understands that mealtimes are for quality time together. It’s a good chance for them to learn from your table manners too.
Keep it casual
Make sure they can see you and the other members of the family enjoying your food. Then they’re more likely to want to join in the food appreciation.
Avoid alternatives to their meal
Fussiness in toddlers can be a way for them to get their own way and if you give in once, they’re likely to try their luck again. If they’re hungry, they will eventually eat - the snack cupboard is temporarily closed for business.
If you’re worried your toddler isn’t getting enough variety, you can sneak fruit and veg into soups, casseroles, pasta sauces and even cakes.
The fab four
While you may have mastered the four main food groups at mealtimes, you might find your toddler still isn’t getting any in their mouth.
Never fear, if they’re still picky eaters at mealtimes you could try and make sure the snacks you offer in between meals are pulling their weight when it comes to nutrients. Ideally offer two healthy snacks a day: one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Here are some simple and healthy snack ideas that cover the four main food groups:
- Portion of cheese
- Plain yoghurt with fruit
- Milk (cows’, formula, or plant-based)
- Rice pudding (check sugar content)
- Toast with smooth peanut or almond butter
- Potato wedges (baked)
- Scone with butter
- Pitta with hummus dip
Fruit & veg
- Fruit faces (raspberry eyes, apple mouth, strawberry nose… you get the idea)
- Apple slices with peanut butter dip
- Veg sticks with blended olive dip (tapenade)
- Plain rice cakes with mashed avocado dip
- Chopped boiled egg
- Cocktail sausages (check the salt content)
- Dhal dip with warmed naan bread
- Shelled, unsalted edamame beans
What to do when nothing else works
Consider keeping a diary of the foods and drinks they’re eating over a week. If they’re eating something from each of the four main food groups then you probably shouldn’t worry.
If they’re missing out on a lot of foods then your next port of call is your health visitor, GP or public health nurse (ROI). They’ll look at their weight and height. If there is an issue, they’ll be able to help with what to do next.