Are you tired of asking your little one to eat up? It could be time for a different approach
First of all, don’t worry – you might be fed up of hearing that it’s just a phase, but the good news is it’s probably true. Most children will go through some sort of fussy-eating stage at some point, and as your toddler starts to assert their growing sense of independence, mealtimes can become a bit of a battleground. When you’re in the middle of it though, you may be wondering if it will ever end…
Fear of anything new – neophobia – is very common in toddlers but it usually passes with time. One reason for this is that at the end of their first year, a child’s growth rate slows down and their appetite decreases, so they might genuinely be less hungry. But instead of feeling frustrated, there are certain tricks you can use to make sure they’re getting a balanced diet.
Try and try again
It can sometimes take a child up to 10 times to accept a new food so don’t give up. If they reject carrots, try again a few weeks later, and then a few weeks after that.
Although it’s frustrating when your little one won’t eat, try not to show it – instead remain enthusiastic about what you’re serving up and offer words of praise for every small mouthful they eat.
Whenever possible have mealtimes with your toddler and eat what they do – they model their behaviour on adults so if you’re eating a portion of broccoli they’re more likely to try it themselves.
Let your child help with the food prep or to lay the table. Giving your toddler a job to do helps them feel involved and can encourage them to eat the finished product. This can be as simple as putting toppings on a pizza or cracking an egg into a bowl.
Instead of heaping food on their plates, try serving it in big dishes in the middle of the table so they can help themselves.
Keep it small
Remember toddlers still have little stomachs so small portions are best. You can always give them seconds if they manage to eat it all up.
Variety on a theme
If they’re a fan of one particular food type, try and build on this. For example if they love potato then try mash potato and add in some cauliflower and broccoli or a jacket potato with cheese and tuna.
Don’t introduce a new food by itself. Instead serve it with something familiar so things they don’t recognise don’t put them off!
Change the state
If your little one won’t eat cooked veg, try giving it to them raw instead – they might like to dip a raw carrot stick in some hummus or to try a fresh, juicy cherry tomato.
If they won’t eat any veg, raw or cooked, you can try sneaking it into pasta sauces and casseroles. Blitz the veggies down so even the sharpest eyes won’t be able to spot the offending carrot or courgette.
Make it fun
Try to make mealtimes something to look forward to. Whether that means putting fruit onto a stick to create a ‘fruit kebab’ or trying to distract them with a game, it’s all about changing their perception of food into something fun rather than scary.
Try and stick to three set mealtimes a day with a healthy snack mid morning and mid afternoon. Don’t expect them to want to eat when they’re over hungry or over tired.
If you toddler refuses a meal, try not to react or force them to eat it. If you’re always telling them off when they don’t eat, they could play up to the attention. Instead, simply take the plate away. They may well decide they want to eat it 20 minutes later once they know you’re not going to give them the attention they want.
The bigger picture
Rather than worrying that your toddler has refused lunch, look at what they’ve eaten over the course of a week – it will usually even out with some days being better than others.
Give yourself a break
Finally, try to stay relaxed about it, and above all don’t blame yourself! Most fussy toddlers grow up to enjoy a healthy balanced diet, so just keep trying and in time your perseverance will pay off. For more tips and advice, check out the HSE’s guide to feeding your child.