I received this message from a reader and guessing that many of you readers will have been there with your little ones before or might be experiencing the very same thing right now so I decided to turn my thoughts on how to get a fussy toddler eating into a post. I hope it will help!
Help!!! I am having so much trouble feeding my 18month old! She has been difficult for ages! Teething ear infections etc etc. But every meal is a battle, unless I was giving her yoghurt or something else she likes such as crackers or chips or anything else bad for her! I am feeling soooo worked up and I am finding every meal I am losing patience. Sometimes she won’t even try it at all, other times I can bribe her into eating mouthfuls with various things depending on how stubborn she is! Help any suggestions! Please!
If you are a regular Freddie’s Food reader you will know that Freddie went through many hunger strikes during his first couple of years of eating solids. There were so many different reasons for him refusing to eat:
- Experimenting with ‘power’ – food and sleep are probably two of the main areas of life a little person can really have any power over!
- Suspicion of new foods and textures
- Not liking ‘mixed up food’
- He wasn’t all that hungry!
- To busy to eat
If your baby, toddler or preschooler has always been a good eater and suddenly goes off their food and you are concerned take them to get checked out by your GP. With pre-verbal children I would always err on the side of caution and your GP isn’t going to think you are a time waster! In fact they might have some helpful advice, hints and tips for you even if you little one is completely healthy. You know your child best so trust your instincts.
So having ruled out sickness and having got reassurance that your toddler is healthy, growing and meeting their milestones where to from here? Having a toddler that just won’t eat is so FRUSTRATING! Your toddler is one smart cookie and they’ll be picking up on that frustration and may be having a whole host of different emotions during mealtimes just like you are.
I think for me the ‘light-bulb’ moment was when I thought about what kind attitude to food I wanted to foster in our children. This changed my whole approach to ‘feeding’ them. I want our children to have a positive and healthy attitude to food, to be adventurous eaters who enjoy tasting and trying new foods, to be able to listen and respond to their appetite and to make healthy food choices. So how do you get there? Big question eh!?!
Ten top tips to get a fussy toddler eating
So here is how I now approach mealtimes with my 15 month old and 3 1/2 year old. I’m not saying this is a magic fix to make your little one eat but I hope these top tips will lead to happy mealtimes. Freddie turned a corner around aged 3 becoming a more adventurous eater; eating and enjoying a much more varied diet. I think if I hadn’t changed my attitude and approach to mealtimes I would have gone bonkers by now!
Eat together whenever you can – This is a challenge in our house. My husband works late so family dinners are a weekend thing. We sit down together and enjoy eating the same thing around a table, chatting, sharing stories about the week and having a happy time (most of the time!). The TV is off and no distractions or toys so the kids concentrate on eating together.
The rule is you have to give it a try. If you don’t like it that’s ok but we are eating as a family so you have to stay and sit at the table. For Lottie our 15 month old this might translate to her playing with and exploring her food even if she doesn’t eat much of some meals. The best thing with the staying at the table rule is that Freddie will often forget he ‘doesn’t like’ something and end up finishing his meal!
Start with small portions they can always have seconds I think I sometimes forget what little tummies toddlers have – they get full quickly and hungry quickly! It’s also good to remember that from about 12 months your child’s growth rate will slow down so they won’t need as much to eat as they did. For Freddie I let him say how much he wants to eat. As a rough guide I find it helpful to take a look at their hands:
- a clenched fist = a serve carbohydrate e.g. 1/2 cup pasta, 1 weetabix or a small pancake
- palm of the hand = protein portion e.g. 1 slice of meat, 1 egg or 1 fish finger
- a handful = a serve of vegetables or fruit e.g. 1/2 cup steamed vegetables, 2 plums or a slice of melon
Give choice even if it is limited choice I often give a choice to the kids would you like a banana or an apple? pasta or rice? This gives your children the ‘power’ over what they are eating. I have a snacks shelf filled with a variety of healthy, nourishing and nutrient dense snacks that Freddie can choose from. I hope this is also helping them learn about making healthy choices. Making sure their snacks are healthy most of the time means that I know they are getting the nutrients they need across the day even if they haven’t eaten much during a mealtime.
Make sure they are hungry at mealtimes Too much milk and too many snacks between meals can lead to not much eating at mealtimes. I offer a mid morning and mid afternoon snack which may or may not include milk to drink. My children get their calcium quota through their food so I don’t give them a regular milk drink as this can really fill up their tummy and limit the variety of other foods they eat, leading to a not so balanced diet. I often find distractions instead of food will help them hold on that extra 15 minutes until dinner time is ready.
We all have hungry days and not so hungry days A healthy child will not starve themselves. Their appetite will vary from day to day just like ours. They will also go through fads of favourite foods or foods they just won’t try. Try to keep offering a varied diet and try not to stress too much! I find it helps to look at what they’ve eaten over the whole week rather than just one day or meal at a time.
It’s ok to save room for dessert Desserts in our place are pretty rare. Generally the kids get fruit or yoghurt but when they do have a dessert I don’t mind if Freddie and Lottie save a bit of space for it! Adults do this so why shouldn’t children?
Let your children try new foods as a family or off your plate Making trying new foods non threatening seems to be the best way to encourage Freddie and Lottie to give them a go. I often find putting something new on my plate they will try it and then ask for more of their own, especially Freddie. Obviously they don’t always like the taste but at least they tried it! One thing to remember is to keep your promice that they don’t have to eat it if they don’t like it!
80% of the time I cook food I know my children enjoy I try and make my children meals that I know they will enjoy about 80% of the time and then encourage them to try different foods, foods they aren’t so keen on or texturally more challenging dishes 20% of the time. I don’t mean that I feed my children special kiddie meals that are different to ours just meals that I know they enjoy, after all I want them to enjoy mealtimes! If they are tired I definitely offer meals that are a guarenteed hit like cauliflower cheese, spaghetti carbonara or pesto chicken nuggets.
Let them be independent The best thing about letting your children feed themselves is that they are in control and you can just enjoy eating together. This comes with a warning though… it will be messy! Probably for quite a few years!
Make mealtimes enjoyable and calm This is probably the most important of all the top tips and only you can control it. Yes your children will reject your delicious meals, sometimes without even trying them and they will throw their food on the floor or clamp their lips shut and turn their mouths away when you try and spoon feed them. Breathe, stay calm and remember it’s only a phase!
Courtenay I hope this helps! I’d love to hear how the next few weeks and months go. If you found this post helpful you might like to also check out Starting Solids – Hunger strike and My baby won’t eat off a spoon.
I love writing posts for readers so please do send contact me if you think I can be of help. No miracle cures I’m afraid but maybe some ideas you can try out. And if you have any other tips on how to get a fussy toddler eating please comment below.