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 – that's a lot of kids!
It can be next to impossible to coax a toddler into eating something they don't want to, but here are some strategies you can try to encourage them to taste and enjoy a wider range of foods.
Top six tips for feeding fussy 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 themselves if they have access to a variety of wholesome food.
- Keep a chart. Write down everything your toddler eats in a week. You'll probably be surprised by how much they manage to get through even though they never seem to eat anything at all.
- Limit snacking so they're hungry at mealtimes.
- Don't feed children too much sugar or fructose (the natural sugars in fruit). It will cause their blood sugar levels to become unstable, and lead to further hunger or no appetite at all – not to mention the crankiness when their blood sugar drops.
- Keep an eye on height and weight gains. If they're consistently growing despite their small appetite, you have nothing to worry about. If they're not growing or behaving as you'd expect, seek medical advice.
- Don't cater to their every whim. You'll promote fussy eating if you keep offering different food choices until they accept one. If you want to give them a choice of food, limit the choice to two.
- Eat with your toddler. They'll be more willing to sit down and eat if they have company and come to understand that eating can be a social activity.
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 food many times before your child will happily eat it. Unfortunately, most parents only persist two or three times before giving up on that particular food altogether.
It's important to introduce textured foods into your child's diet early on. If you only give your child smooth and pureed foods, he may automatically resist trying anything with a more lumpy texture. Once he's confidently eating, try forking and mashing – rather than pureeing – cooked vegetables and fruits.
Set a good example
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 her foods that you like – she may enjoy completely different tastes to you.
Don't make the dinner table a battleground. Try not to communicate your anxiety about your child's eating habits to her, or try to force or bribe her into eating. Meal times should not be a power struggle, where you and your child are battling for control.
Healthy snack ideas
- Rice cakes lightly spread with ricotta or light cream cheese and vegemite.
- Toasted muffin with butter.
- A slice of toasted wholegrain bread topped with ricotta cheese.
- Microwaved pappadums.
- Crispbreads with a low fat topping or plain biscuits.
- Wholewheat breakfast cereal and reduced fat milk.
- Toasted sandwich – try ham, cheese and tomato.
- Homemade muffins or buy a low-fat muffin mix – check the sugar content first.
- Frozen banana (spear halved, peeled banana with an icy-pole stick and freeze) or other frozen fruit such as grapes, peeled orange or mandarin segments.
- A scoop of low-fat ice cream.
- 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 of diet cordial.
- Fruit kebabs (skewer cubes of fruits on to bamboo skewers), but limit fruit to two pieces a day.
- 200gm tub of low-fat fruit yoghurt, with less than 5g of sugar per 100g.
- 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 pasta (in a fun shape if you like).
- Raisin toast.
- Cheese scones or muffins (mix grated cheese in, or sprinkle on top and grill).
- Crumpets with a scrape of butter – try topping with tomato and cheese.
- Pikelets with a little bit of cream or ricotta.
Sourced with permission from kidspot.com.au