Top Fussy Eating Tips
Having spent so much time looking after children since I was 16 years old, I have had so much experience of toddlers who are fussy eaters. What I’ve learned is what works and what doesn’t work so well with regards to encouraging little people to eat healthily. During this time I tested out various strategies and theories during this time so I now have really clear tips and tricks to help parents with their toddler’s eating.
From the age of around 12 months, what’s really important to remember is that most toddlers will become fussy eaters at some point. Fussy and picky eating is really normal because it’s a time when they start tesing their indepndence and control. THis can play out through behaviour and sleep, too, but most notably their eating.
Fussy eating means everything from your little one not wanting to sit down, perhaps refusing certain foods, being very picky about what they will eat, maybe not even touching their foods, possibly throwing food on the floor, some crying, some screaming, misbehavior and your gut feeling, as a parent, is that your toddler isn’t eating how you would like them to eat then I can help with that.
There are many reasons for what we may call a ‘fussy’ eater: snacking, portion size and offering alternatives.
Snacking is one of the biggest problem areas of toddler eating (and probably ours, too!). It’s one of the biggest, if not the main cause, of fussy eating and reduced appetite during mealtimes. When it comes to snacks there are lots of different ways of how to introduce them to your toddler but I would say that there are some children who eat great meals and they still manage to have a snack between each meal, but there are also lots of children I see that are not able to have a snack, because it totally ruins their appetite for their next meal or they’re snacking too much.
I’d always look at how much your toddler is snacking first of all, so do they have one snack between each meal and that’s that? Or, perhaps, are they demanding snacks several times a day and you realise that they’re having 4-5 snacks in a day. Ask yourself: are they snacking more than once between each meal? If so I’d suggest that you reduce it to one snack between each meal, for some children even that can be too much. It can help to play around with the size of the snack that you give your toddler.
Also, ask yourself: who has control over the snacking process? If your toddler thinks that they have control and they are asking for snacks it’s entirely likely that that will mean they’ll snack more, as they’re testing their independence. If they have control then snacking will have much more of an impact on their eating. Try and make sure that you, as the parent, have the control in the situation.
Consider what sort of snacks you offer, as a parent. In the supermarket aisles nowadays there are hundreds of bright packages to tempt your toddlers and they’re marketed at children. A lot of them are made of rice and oats, which are quite filling, but without a huge amount of nutritional value. Try and stay clear of the filling snacks because it will fill their tummies up. Try, instead, a stick of apple or cucumber for a more healthy snack and they’re often less-craved, too.
Can you imagine going to a friend’s house for dinner, you’re really excited and then they dump a huge bowl of pasta in front of you and you wonder if you’re going to be able to eat it?! I think your toddler feels this overwhelmed if there is a lot of food on their plate!
Your toddler’s portion size is roughly about a quarter of what you would put onto your own plate. I know that I am guilty of probably giving my own boys too much, but do try to consider that a toddler requires only a quarter of an adult’s portion size as a guide. Another way to picture this is that their portion size should be around the size of their clenched fist, which is how much food you want to get into their tummy – not a lot at all!
Often giving your child too much food can put your child off wanting to eat and, therefore, result in us thinking that they are a “fussy eater”. Then we go to a second choice, or a pudding, or extra milk – and they don’t need it! This can spiral so we end up with a toddler who is not eating their meals but, instead, they’re full of other foods at other times so they won’t eat at mealtimes.
If there’s less on the plate, they’re much more likely to eat well!
One of the most common habits that parents get into is offering their child a second choice when they haven’t actually eaten what is in front of them. For example, say you were to offer your child chicken, broccoli and rice and they refuse to eat it – as a parent, naturally you want to feed your toddler up and, therefore, I see parents say “ok, would you like some toast with peanut butter because I know you eat that?“. You give them the toast and they eat a bit, then you offer them a pouch to fill them up -a common thing I see. The problem with this is that it detracts from the original meal itself and you’re sending the message to your child that the first meal isn’t important and doesn’t have to be eaten.
This control over refusing a meal to get a second meal is what toddlers will do as they learn patterns of behaviour that reinforce to them that they don’t have to eat the first thing they’re given. This could mean that they don’t want to try a food and they’ll get to the point where they refuse anything you give them, because they know an alternative is coming.
Offering alternatives is a spiral and can end up with your toddler refusing to eat and it’s a really stressful situation for parents that I see in my consulting practice a lot. You might find your child only eats a few options of foods and so this is what you stick to. Alternatives are not ideal to encourage your child to be interested in the meal in front of them and to create positive eating habits moving forwards.
If you’d like to learn more about my 1-1 support around fussy eating, click below.