Most parents have experienced a toddler that just refuses to eat or does not want to eat what you have made for them. This can be a very frustrating time but the best thing to do is to try and stay calm (take a deep breath!) and not show your anxiety to your toddler.
Remember – food refusal is a normal phase that most toddlers pass through, so you are not alone! Most toddlers have good and bad days (just like adults!) so don’t expect your child to eat the same amount every day.
Here are some top tips to help with managing fussy eaters…
TOP TIP 1: Develop a routine for mealtimes and snacks
Make sure you offer meals and snacks at the same time each day (more or less) so that your child knows what to expect. This also ensures that your child does not become over hungry or too tired to eat.
TOP TIP 2: Try to recognize signals for when your toddler has had enough to eat
You decide WHAT your child eats and let them decide HOW MUCH they eat. Your child is telling you they have had enough when they do the following:
– Say no!
– Keep their mouth shut
– Turn their head away
– Push away a spoon or fork
– Hold food in their mouth
– Spit food out
– Gag or retch
TOP TIP 3: Check fluid intake from milk and other drinks
If a child is full up on juice or milk they will not have an appetite for their food. Use a drinking cup for water/diluted juice/milk and try to phase out feeding bottles by about 12 months of age, as this will automatically decrease the amount of milk that your child drinks.
Between 1 and 3 years of age, a child needs a maximum of 350ml of milk per day (less if taking other dairy products like yoghurt and cheese), to meet their calcium requirements. So try to limit dairy products to 3 times per day – see previous post on ‘Milk – how much is enough?’
TOP TIP 4: Encourage self-feeding and offer small portions
From about 8 months of age, your baby will want to hold food and attempt to feed themselves. This can be a messy phase but try to put up with the mess as your baby needs to learn this process! Offer finger foods at each meal and allow your toddler to hold the spoon or fork themselves, even if most of the food does not make it to their mouths…they will get the hang of it eventually! Try to offer small portions so that your child is not overwhelmed by the amount of food in front of them.
TOP TIP 5: Try to eat together as a family as often as possible and involve children in food preparation
These days with everybody’s very busy and hectic lifestyles, families often don’t eat together anymore. Try to make this a priority to eat together as often as you can – even if it is only on weekends.
Also try to get your child eating together with other children as some children eat better when with others. Remember…children learn by copying others!
And finally – get creative and start cooking with your children. They will grow up learning about different foods and are more likely to try foods that they have helped prepare.
TOP TIP 6: Check for medical causes
Constipation and iron deficiency anaemia can decrease a child’s appetite. Previous negative / unpleasant experiences around food and eating, such as pain, vomiting or gastro-oesopageal reflux can also affect a child’s eating behaviour. If you suspect your child may have one of these conditions, speak to your GP.
And most importantly, GIVE PRAISE!! Toddlers love to hear you say that you are proud of them or “well done” or “good eating” even if it is a very small amount that they have eaten.
Enjoy eating a variety of foods and your child will too!