Giving your children healthy, nutritious meals that give them plenty of energy and everything they need to stay energetic and happy can be scuppered by an upturned nose.
But fussy eating is a common phase of toddler development and you’re more likely than not to have to deal with a picky eating episode at some point.
To stop the kitchen becoming a war zone at meal times, try these 10 fussy eating solutions to help your toddler see the fun in food.
1. Don’t panic and stay positive. Try not to give unnecessary attention to your toddler who’s refusing to eat. If he leaves his food, don’t comment, just remove the plate. Praise works better than criticism, so give him attention and compliments for eating all his food or for trying foods he’s not sure about.
2. Eat with others. If you can, eat as a family, so your toddler gets used to seeing people eat the food he’s decided he doesn’t like. It’s also great to get other children round for tea (chat to their parents first and find out if they’re good eaters) so he can see his peers eating in a normal way.
3. Make healthy food the norm. Stock your fridge up with healthy, tasty foods, so if your toddler goes though an ‘only eating one thing’ phase, at least all his choices are good ones.
4. Be a good role model. Children learn by copying, so however you feel about food, make sure you talk about it in a positive way, comment on foods you find tasty and make enjoying food seem like a normal part of life, for your little one to copy.
5. Disguise it. Get creative with your toddler’s plate. Some mums transform food into pictures or faces that encourages their tot to want to eat it and it’s key to make meal time fun. It’s also possible to slip in extra healthy items without your little one noticing. Add grated carrots to spaghetti bolognaise to get in another of his five a day. One sure-fire way to encourage more enthusiasm is to put food on cocktails sticks – for some reason it works wonders! Try cherry tomatoes, cheese and pineapple chunks or cocktail sausages.
6. Keep to a routine. Have meals at the same time each day. Young children thrive on routine so eat at regular intervals and keep snacks and main meals to the same times each day.
7. Offer a mix of foods. At meals, have a savoury course and a pudding course so your tot gets to experiment with different types of food. This will also help him get enough nutrition from each meal. The sweet course can also be a reward for eating the first course. Mix up the meals you offer too, that way he’s got more chances to find dishes he really loves.
8. Involve your toddler. Introduce your toddler to where his food comes from. If you have the facility to grow any yourself, he’ll be far more likely to eat something he’s planted. If you can’t grow your own, take him to the supermarket to help you choose the food, making him feel part of the decision.
9. Introduce a table time limit. If your toddler hasn’t eaten after 30 minutes at the table, calmly accept that he’s not going to. Clear the table and allow him to leave. Leave his leftovers or untouched meal in the fridge and you may find hunger will drive him back to it (as long as you don’t crack and allow him a packet of crisps!).
10. Don’t bargain. A little bribery within reason is fine, but don’t make a new meal for your toddler when he refuses to eat the one in front of him. If he doesn’t eat much at one meal, make sure the next one you make is a favourite to make sure he’s eating enough.
It can be upsetting and stressful when your child won’t eat, but try not to panic. Keep an eye on the foods he does consume and that they contain all the major food groups – carbohydrates, dairy, protein, fruit and vegetables.
If you’re concerned he’s really not getting enough nutrients or doesn’t seem to be growing or putting on weight, talk to your GP.