Help, my toddler won’t eat main meals

Nutritionist, Charlotte Stirling-Reed, provides helpful tips for dealing with your fussy eater at meal times.

Establish eating patterns for toddlers.

Fussy eating is incredibly common. Most toddlers will, at some point, go through a phase of fussy eating so firstly try your best not to worry too much. As long as you know how to cope with the fussy behaviour, it will, in most cases, be no more than a phase in your child’s development.

At times seeing your child not eating can be difficult and stressful for mums and this stress can lead to quick and sometimes irrational decisions – which can often make the problem worse. So instead, relax, stay calm and read below for advice on how to deal with your fussy toddler at mealtimes!

Tips for dealing with fussy toddlers at mealtimes

  • Ensure you establish a good eating pattern from early on (around one year) by offering three main meals and a couple of snacks based on nutritious foods every day.
  • Try to have “family mealtimes” where everyone eats together, as much as possible. Brothers, sisters, mums and dads will all be role models to your toddler and so it is important he or she sees everyone eating their foods during meals.
  • Make sure mealtimes are very separate from play time and encourage your toddler to help clear away any toys or games which may be seen as distractions.
  • Get your toddler involved in mealtime preparation and ask them to help you set the table, mix salads or wash and peel vegetables.
  • Offer smaller portions.  Big portions can often be overwhelming and can put toddlers off eating altogether. It is much better to offer less and allow them to have seconds if they request it.
  • Try offering foods you know your toddler likes with a food or foods they are refusing.
  • Do not force feed your toddler at any time and try not to bribe children with desserts or puddings. This can lead children to think about foods as “good” and “bad” food and therefore will make mealtimes even more difficult.
  • Keep mealtimes to 20 or 30 minutes and no longer. If your toddler hasn’t touched his food after this time they are not likely to at all. Remove the unwanted food without fuss or comment and offer it again if they are hungry later.
  • Never offer alternatives if family meals are refused. This is where on many occasions parents make the wrong decisions, wanting their toddler to simply eat “anything”! However this teaches your little one that if they refuse your healthy food they can get something they like instead and will therefore only make the fussy eating problem worse.
  • Try your best to ignore unwanted behaviour (e.g. not eating meal) and focus all your praise and attention on the desired behaviour, whether that be toward mum, dad, siblings or even the fussy toddler. They will eventually pick up on the fact that they get attention only when they eat up their dinner.
  • Most importantly, stay calm, try not to react and don’t give in!

How do you keep calm?

What works for you, when your child turns fussy at mealtimes?

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Photograph: Abbybatchelder @ Flickr

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