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  • Diane Johnson RNutr

So your toddler is a fussy eater...


Has each meal become a battle ground with your toddler? Have you become a little obsessed with your child’s eating habits? Has he or she taken over the menu planning through tantrums and power games? Yes? Then it’s time to regain control of mealtime!

Follow my some or part of my advice and it may be that you can sit down together and enjoy eating great family meals, expanding everyone’s horizons eating a nutrient rich, healthy diet.

Encouraging healthy eating early on in life will help to ensure that good eating habits are carried on through to adulthood.


Let's get started...

Make time

Depending on your circumstances with work and family commitments try as far as may be possible to have two or three days pressure free with a little time to spare. This may mean two or three days when you’re not working full-time or busy with other responsibilities. If you can do this it will ultimately free up time for you in the future when you’re not messing around making multiple meals, or arguing over food! Having time and space is important and depressurises the situation. Try to plan for no appointments, or things that have to get done for the first couple of days and then see how things go.

Then relax…

Scale down the importance of mealtimes. You may be pretending to be relaxed at first, but that is the first step. Your attitude is the most important part of the plan. Not being anxious yourself and bearing no pressure on your toddler should have magical results for you and the family. Unfortunately, it is one of those anomalies in life that the more you strive for the best possible end result sometimes this in itself can prove to be destructive. For the time being don’t worry about specifics with what is eaten, particularly the quantity your child eats, but do aim for nutrient dense meals and healthy snacks.

Make a special place to eat

Always give plenty of warning to the child for the mealtime as breaking off from interesting activities can start a problem before the food has even been tasted! Meals should ideally be eaten at the table and sitting down together and eating the same food. Eating in company is best and including other children or adults at the table is great, although not always a possibility. Alternatively mealtime with Mum or Dad can be made special, particularly if the rest of the family or friends are not about. Chatting about things he’s interested in, telling him a story or playing some of his favourite music all helps to make it a pleasant experience and one to look forward to. Avoid having the telly on as this is very distracting. Ignore table manners by and large, no matter how hard this may be, there’s time to hone those skills later.


Give your toddler an idea of the next activity you’re both going to do after the meal. Have your own idea of a time constraint. The very young do not relate well to specific timings, but an idea that time is moving on and you’ve both got lots of the day ahead to do fun things should help. Plan the end of the mealtime and have this clear in your own mind. You know how long your toddler should take to finish a meal. At the end of mealtime initiate the next activity, there's nothing like distraction to help! If your toddler is used to confrontation, pleading and lots of attention when he hasn’t cleared his plate he may be confused that there’s no fuss, or bother. This can result in a reaction from him as he’s used to a bit of excitement at this stage! Do not get involved, just move on.

Repeat this process for each meal and snack. Don’t be put off. If he does eat what you regard as a fantastic amount or different type of food don’t go overboard congratulating him, I know you’ll be really pleased, but the best response is a bit more muted. If you feel he has not eaten enough remember children will generally eat if they are hungry.

Try to keep your food varied!

Fruit, vegetables, cereals, rice, pasta, breads, beans, lentils and pulses, seeds and potatoes. If your family food preferences allow include a selection of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. Box schemes and food co-operatives are a great idea and really worth investigating locally to you. These can be real time and money savers. Use brown rice, interesting bread, perhaps with honey and sunflower seeds, make your own and batch freeze or buy really good bakers’ bread – much more appetising than many supermarket versions.

Cooking methods.

Vary the cooking methods and eat food that is really fresh wherever possible. Experiment with whole foods such as lentils, beans, or other pulses and sprouted beans and seeds. Add sprouted beans to anything - use in salad, pop into casseroles at the last minute or use as a garnish just before serving. Buy in wholemeal flour and use it for baking and pancakes etc.

Where are you going to eat?

Vary where you eat, let your toddler help to prepare food where possible, but don’t push if he doesn’t want to get involved. Pick easy to prepare, nutritious home made food. Have picnics in the garden, let him serve himself from a tableful of small choices – cherry tomatoes, celery sticks, cheese dip, garlicky hummus, passata with small amounts of chopped herbs such as fresh parsley for dipping, rice crackers, rice salad, pasta salad, boiled eggs, mini baked potatoes with different fillings, slices of homemade pizza, sliced cold chicken in a lemon dressing. Go for small amounts of each item and don’t make a big fuss over preparing the dishes, but present them with a bit of fun. Sometimes a bowlful of plain salad is unappealing,

but dressed with flavours and textures can transform the experience. A piece of lettuce can inadvertently end up being eaten and enjoyed if it’s attached to a piece of chicken! If you can have these foods available in the fridge/freezer fairly routinely a meal can be popped into a picnic basket and packed with great excitement to go to the park, or just in the garden and provide you and other members of the family with the basis for easy choices for packed lunches to take to work or eat at home too.

Eating with others is also a great way to move forward to improve a child’s repertoire of foods. Ask others round, chill out and treat the children to their own table/picnic rug. You may discover that what the adults are enjoying becomes highly desirable for the youngsters. Have the children’s friends round to eat for tea if you don’t already. This is a good plan if they only ever go eat and socialise at parties where sometimes it seems the aim of the game is to make the children sick with sweet and salty food! A meal with good quality home cooked food gives a sense of realism that pre-schooler friends don’t eat “party food” all the time which can be a misconception only quashed when they start school and see school dinners and packed lunches!

Invest in equipment.

Many youngsters have a fascination for making bread in a bread maker, or making it from scratch and watching the magic of flour turning to dough proving and rising dough, bashing the dough around and designing the end product or making dressings/dips/smoothies/soups in a processor or real ice cream with great ingredients in an ice-cream maker it could be worth investing in kitchen aids that you may not have. Trawl the kitchen shops for interesting cookery aids or fun gimmicky things. Make lollies - freeze fruit juice in lolly makers or puree fruit, add juice and then freeze for lollies in the same way. Equipment can be picked up quite cheaply secondhand, borrowed, or shared in a parent pool. Try asking older parents you may know who have unused larger pieces of equipment they no longer use now their family have flown the nest.

Grow your own...

Choose tasty interesting veg that can be picked and eaten on the spot where possible. If you’re planting peas use some without cooking with the pods intact if they’re young enough – deliciously crunchy, or use a sugar snap variety. Children are often fascinated to grow potatoes in containers – magical you put one or two in and later take out lots – new potatoes are best for this. Soft fruit is great too whether raspberry canes or strawberries. Herbs on the windowsill which you can buy them from garden centres, or grow from seed are lovely add ons to sandwiches, soups and salads.

In a nutshell; relax, have some fun, promote nutritionally dense foods positively, eat together, apart, outside, in the park, plant, grow, cook together, forget rules that aren’t relevant to safety then everyone can experiment and have fun!

#fussyeating #familyfood

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