Coping with toddlers who are fussy eaters

Fussy eating among toddlers is very common.
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  • Updated:4 Jun 2011

01.Have you got a fussy toddler?

fussy toddler refusing to eat fruit

You’re not alone in worrying about your toddler’s eating habits. By definition, anyone who refuses a new food at least half the time is considered a fussy eater - and by those criteria, approximately 50% of all toddlers are fussy eaters!

  • 80% of all Australian parents worry that their child's eating habits aren't healthy. 
  • 35% of Australian parents feel concerned about the amount their child eats.

Focus on your habits

While it can be difficult to coax a toddler into eating something he doesn't want to, there are some strategies you can try to encourage him to try and enjoy a wider range of foods:

  • Introduce textured foods. If you only give your child smooth and pureed foods, he may automatically resist trying anything with a more lumpy texture. Once he is confidently eating, try forking and mashing - rather than pureeing - cooked vegetables and fruits.
  • Food rejection is normal. Children are basically creatures of habit and will usually prefer to stick with the familiar. So it's totally normal to have to offer a new individual food many times before your child will happily eat it. However, most parents only persist two or three times before giving up on that particular food altogether. 
  • Practice what you preach. Research has found that most toddlers who are fussy eaters have parents who admit to being fussy eaters too. To encourage your toddler to happily try a wide range of foods, you need to widen your own eating habits. Don't only offer him foods that you like - he may enjoy completely different tastes to you. 
  • Don't make the dinner table a battle ground. Try not to communicate your anxiety about your child's eating habits to him, or try to force or bribe him into eating. Meal times should not be a power struggle, where you and your child are battling for control.
Remember, toddlers will eat if hungry 
  • Unless he's unwell, your toddler will never voluntarily starve himself. 
  • Your child is eating enough if he is energetic during the day and sleeping well at night. Keep an eye on how much food he actually eats over the course of the day. 
  • Your child may be a grazer - and you'd be surprised how those little handfuls of food and snacks add up.

Top tips for feeding toddlers

If every meal seems like a battleground - food refusal, thrown food, fussy eating habits - try to keep calm and consider the following: 

  • A healthy child will never willingly starve herself if she has access to a variety of wholesome food.
  • If you're really worried about what your toddler eats, keep a chart for a week and write down everything she eats. You'll probably be surprised by how much she manages to get through despite the fact that she never seems to eat anything at all. 
  • If your child is a very poor eater, giving her a vitamin supplement may be useful.
  • Keep an eye on her height and weight gains - if she's consistently growing despite her small appetite, you have nothing to worry about. If she is not growing or behaving as you would expect seek medical advice.
  • Don't cater to her every whim. You will promote fussy eating if you keep offering different food choices until she accepts one. If she is fussy, and you want to give her a choice of food, keep the choice to two.
  • If your child is a resistant eater, keep snacking to a minimum so she's hungry at mealtimes and will be more willing to eat.
  • Try to eat with your toddler - even if it's a snack. She'll be more willing to sit down and eat if she has company and comes to understand that eating can be a social activity.

Healthy snack ideas 

  • Rice cakes lightly spread with ricotta or "light" cream cheese and vegemite or fruit spread.
  • Toasted muffin with a scrape of honey or fruit spread.
  • Slice of toasted wholegrain bread topped with ricotta cheese and fruit spread.
  • Microwaved pappadums.
  • Crispbreads with a low fat topping or plain biscuits.
  • Wholewheat breakfast cereal and reduced fat milk.
  • Toasted sandwich - use baked beans with a slice of low fat cheese or lean ham and creamed corn.
  • Homemade muffins or buy a low fat muffin mix (check your supermarket).
  • Frozen banana (spear peeled banana with icy-pole stick and freeze) or other frozen fruit such as grapes, peeled orange or mandarin segments.
  • Scoop low fat ice cream with 1/2 cup canned unsweetened fruit.
  • Strawberry smoothie (using skim or low fat milk or low fat soy drink).
  • Ice blocks made with equal quantity fruit juice and low fat yoghurt.
  • Ice blocks made on diet cordial.
  • Fruit kebabs (skewer cubes of fruits on to bamboo skewers).
  • 200gm tub of frozen yoghurt or low fat fruit yoghurt.
  • Fruit platter with low fat yoghurt to dip into.
  • Bowl of pumpkin soup (made with low fat evaporated milk or skim milk instead of cream).
  • Vegetable rich soup with spirally pasta.
  • Raisin toast.
  • 2 minute noodles.
  • Cheese scones or muffins (mix grated cheese in or sprinkle on top and grill).
  • Crumpets with a scrape of margarine - try topping with tomato and cheese.
  • Fresh fruit kebabs.
  • Pikelets with jam or honey.

This article was written by Ella Walsh. Sourced with permission from



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