It’s natural to worry about whether your little one is eating enough of the right things, especially if they start refusing foods some days, and showing signs of food fads and fussy eating. It’s a common tale and it’s quite normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or even taste new foods.
If they’re otherwise well, active and growing, and eating something from the four main food groups, even if it is often the same thing, then try not to be too concerned.
Try a food diary
It’s often reassuring to keep a food diary for a week just to see what they are actually eating.
Day to day there may be some fluctuation, but try to look at the whole picture over a week.
If their growth starts to become affected by severe food fussiness though, or if they’re not as active as usual, talk to your health visitor or GP.
- Encourage your child to try lots of different foods; unless you need to for medical or cultural reasons, don’t exclude particular food or drinks.
- Give lots of praise for eating, even if it’s just a little.
- If your little one is a slow eater try to be patient and leave plenty of time for meals.
Children’s tastes change, think back yourself about foods you didn’t like as a child but enjoy eating now.
Keep offering new foods and make sure you give them plenty of praise when they do try something new!
Just don’t give up - remember, it can take up to 10 - 15 tries. Keep trying!
Try something new - if it’s not a new food, try to encourage the idea that trying new things is fun by getting a new cup, cutlery, lunchbox or plate or even eating in a new place, taking a picnic into the garden or to the park can open up opportunities to try new things too.
Serve nutritious foods that you like or eat something new so your child sees you enjoying what you’re asking them to eat. Make encouraging sounds and expressions.
If your little one simply rejects the food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take the food away without comment and stay calm - we understand, it’s very frustrating.
Try to stick to regular mealtimes, don’t leave meals until your child is too hungry or tired to eat. If you are out and about, make sure you have a stop-gap snack, a cracker or rice cake and cubes of cheese in a pot, or a satsuma can help tide them over, but don’t give too many snacks between meals as a replacement if they’ve not eaten at mealtimes.
If you know any other children of the same age who are good eaters, ask them round for tea. You may also find that if your little one is at nursery or with a child minder that they eat a much more varied diet when they have other children and adults to copy.
Eat meals together wherever possible and give your little one the same as the rest of the family. Eating with their peers and family members can also help overcome fussy eating - creating positive peer pressure and setting a good example as a role model to copy.
Try to avoid using food as a reward and steer clear of saying ‘If you eat your cabbage you can have a yogurt for pudding’. Instead, reward them with a trip to the park or promise to play a game with them.
Toddlers love to play and they love to try new foods in a fun and interactive context – from cooking with Mum or Dad, to playing with foods and pretending foods are different characters, to creating shapes with food and making faces on a plate. Plenty of variety and colour helps to keep their interest and encourage them to try – but use heaps of enthusiasm too!
For curious toddlers, having fun with fruit and vegetables allows them to explore food away from mealtimes.
Lucy Thomas, founder of Mange Tout and mum to Molly & Isla-Rose, has helped thousands of fussy eaters discover the fun in food, and her methods have been recommended by experts from Great Ormond Street Hospital.
Here's some of her top tips: