In this article I’d like to briefly go through some common scenarios I see working with parents to reverse clients fussy eating, over the last number of years; with the aim of avoiding fussy eating in toddlers.
Filling up on milk is often one of the most common causes of a poor appetite in toddlers. Parents often worry that their toddlers aren’t getting enough calcium but there are lots of food sources of calcium outside of milk, including both dairy and non-dairy. While milk is a nutritious drink, it does not contain all the nutrients that a toddler requires such as iron.
While milk is a great part of the diet for many toddlers, it should not dominate the diet so much that there is little space for food. If you feel that this is the case with your toddler, start to gradually reduce the milk being offered and see if there is an increase in their appetite.
Frequent snacking is another very common cause of a poor appetite in toddlers, especially at mealtimes. Snacks such as crackers, breadsticks or toast are usually so appealing and easy to eat for toddlers who are seeking independence. Once snacks are introduced, they can easily dominate the diet so there is less space for meals. This means a toddler has a less varied diet and probably poorer nutrition if they are eating very little or no meals.
Ways of dealing with this include offering snacks that are more like mini-meals such as soup, or offering a little of the main meal at snack time.
It’s very common for many parents to apply pressure on toddlers, especially if they have eaten very little food that day. However applying pressure even in subtle ways usually causes more damage than good, as toddlers want to assert their independence and this includes over their eating.
Toddlers also have very variable appetites and can eat lots some days and little other days, without any significant cause such as feeling sick.
Ideally we would not apply any pressure whatsoever when toddlers are eating, including the amount they eat or the types of food they eat. Therefore it is best not to show our upset or concern if our toddler is eating very little or only eating one of the foods on the plate such as the bread.
If your toddler eats very little or no food that is offered especially in the evening, its super tempting to offer them an alternative food to make sure they won’t go to bed hungry. However this food is often a ‘more favourite food’ such as toast or yoghurt. If this happens regularly our toddler may wait and eat very little or none of the meal as they know a ‘more preferred food’ is on its way and they can fill up on this.
One way of dealing with this is to always offer a ‘reasonable or safe food’ at every meal. This food is a food that your toddler usually eats. But of course there’s no guarantee that they will always eat it as toddlers can be very fickle, eating and enjoying a food one day and refusing it as ‘the worst food ever’ the next day!
While I love a good routine, this can have some negative effects for example if we serve the same breakfast every morning to our toddler such as Weetabix. After a while, our toddler comes to expect this cereal and if another food is offered instead they may be disappointed that they are not getting their usual option. Therefore they may refuse to even try the alternative just because it is not their usual breakfast.
Its best of course not to get into a ‘rut ‘like this and offer different options for the same meal on different days such as different breakfast cereals or different breads. If you are already in this rut, try offering options that are slightly different to their usual food.
Veggies are definitely the most challenging food group for many toddlers especially the less sweet or green veggies. Of course it is super tempting to ensure our toddlers still eat these foods in some form, even if they refuse to eat them as you usually offer them.
However if we hide vegetables so well in another food/drink such as a smoothie, then our toddler isn’t even aware what they are eating. So nutritionally it makes sense but from the point of view of exposing our toddler to these vegetables it’s not the best idea to always hide vegetables or completely hide them.
For more straightforward, positive and practical strategies to help grow your own happy, healthy toddlers, check out my online course called Create Healthy Eating Habits, Early.
This contains 16 bite-sized videos including more support on the common challenges mentioned above, such as frequent snacking. The course also contains videos and handouts on responsive feeding and serving, textures and variety.