Fussy eater advice

Help! My baby is a fussy eater.

First of all do not panic if you child is a fussy eater. Most toddlers go through a phase of only eating a narrow range of foods. This is completely normal and has a grand title of food neophobia - fear of new foods.

Toddlers often need time to adjust to eating new tastes and textures. Often watching you or others eat helps to speed this up. Over time the variety of foods they eat should increase but some foods take significantly longer to be accepted than others.

But you loved this last week!

A very frustrating thing for parents is that your child's taste will often change. A food that was a favourite "dead cert" last week might be rejected point blank the following week. Again this is common, just the same as adults tire of eating the same tasting food, so do children.

Don't push it

Feeding a fussy eater can be extremely stressful and frustrating. When you are at the end of your tether, relax, take a deep breath and try to remember that your child is just developing normally and eventually they will get through this phase!

Getting stressed, frustrated or angry will make the situation far worse. Avoid meals becoming a stressful encounter and don't try to force your child to eat more than they want. You should always offer your child nutritious food but allow them to decide how much they eat.

Once a toddler discovers that not eating gets them more attention, it is very difficult to get them to eat properly! They will continue to push their boundaries to see what they can get away with.

Tips for feeding fussy eaters

  • Eat together as often as you can. Children learn to eat new foods by watching and copying others.
  • Making positive comments whilst eating foods will help to encourage you baby to try them.
  • Follow a regular routine - three meals a day with 2-3 healthy snacks around your childs sleeps allows your child to know what to expect. Don't try to make tired children eat a full meal. Give a small snack before a nap and a larger meal afterwards when they are not tired.
  • Two course meals are better than one. Give a savoury dish followed by a sweeter dessert. Differing tastes prevent you toddler from getting bored with the same flavours.
  • Offer lots of praise when they are eating well. Try to avoid giving attention when they are not eating well or they may stop eating just to get more attention. If they don't eat well, remove the uneaten food without comment and wait until the next snack/meal before offering anything else.
  • Set maximum meal times - Limit meals to about 20-30 minutes. Once you exceed this time, it is unlikely you child will eat any more. It is better to wait until next snack/meal time rather than try to force more food into your baby. Most babies will eat what they need in the first 20 minutes.
  • Use small portions. Too much food on the plate can be a little overwhelming for a toddler and it can put them off eating. If you child polishes off a small portion offer a lot of praise and offer some more food too.
  • Finger foods can help. When possible let you child feed themselves. Although messy, feeling independent can really help your child eat well.
  • Eat elsewhere. Try going for a picnic, even on a rug indoors or eating out in a cafe or restaurant. The change of scene will sometimes help motivate your toddler to eat.
  • Remove distractions. Children eat best in a quiet, relaxed environment. Turn off the TV and hide games and toys so that you toddler can concentrate on eating.

Fussy eaters - what to avoid.

  • Don't rush meals - Some toddlers eat slowly so allow enough time for them to finish.
  • Don't force more food on them - once your toddler has stopped eating, avoid trying to make them eat more or to clear their plate.
  • Don't offer alternative meals. If your baby doesn't want a particular meal, do not give them a different one in its place. Take it away and wait until the next snack/meal before offering them anything else. Always try and offer at least one food your child will eat at each meal.
  • Avoid big drinks near meals - Large drinks of milk, squash or fruit juice near meals will reduce you child's appetite. If they are thirsty, offer just water instead.
  • Don't give snacks just before or just after a meal. Don't give a snack soon after a meal if your toddler hasn't eaten well. Although tempting to do this just to ensure that your toddler has eaten something, it is best to have a set meal pattern and wait until the next snack or meal before offering food again.  It is unlikely your child will starve between meals, but they may very well be hungry at the next meal.
  • Changing tastes - children will often refuse a food several times and then suddenly decide they like it. If a food has been rejected once, don't be afraid to offer it again at a later date as they may decide it is now their favourite!
  • Keep positive - Just because one meal was a disaster doesn't mean the next will be. Remain happy and positive and try to learn from the last meal so as to improve the experience for both your toddler and yourself.

I'm still worried about my toddlers eating habits

If you are still unsure about your toddlers eating habits, make a list of the food and drink your toddler does eat over one week. If there are foods from all the food groups in the diet, the problem may not be as bad as you think. If you are still concerned about how much your child eats or if you think they may be underweight, talk to your health visitor or GP.