Fussy Eaters

Fussy Eaters

Do you struggle with getting your toddler to eat a range of foods? Is your toddler reluctant to eat at some meal times?

Now, I am no nutritionist. However, as a Centre Manager and ECE teacher I have been lucky enough to learn some strategies around supporting fussy and reluctant eaters through the NZ Heart Foundation. So, I’m hoping some of these strategies might help you lovely parents at home.

Offer one new food alongside food that you know your little one enjoys. By doing this you won’t be overwhelming your little one with lots of new options that they are unsure of. You’ll also have piece of mind in knowing that they have eaten something so they won’t be hungry!

Continue offering new foods. Even if they don’t eat the food the first, second, or third time, don’t be disheartened! It can take several times of being exposed to the food for our little ones to finally give it a go! Food exposure is about seeing, feeling, and smelling the food, not just tasting. So continuing to put it on their plate, even if they don’t eat it is not a waste of time! Just offer really small amounts of the new food so it doesn’t feel like it is going to waste.

Eat with your little one and role model eating the new foods. This one really does work. I can’t tell you the amount of times my little ones at preschool have said they don’t want to eat something, but when I sit down and eat alongside them they end up giving it a go.

Make the meal enjoyable. Try and eat together as a family, talk about your day, and make it a fun time.

Get your little one to help with the prep. Toddlers LOVE to help with things. Have them help you cook. Get them to help set the table. They thrive on being a part of doing ‘adult’ things. This may help encourage them to sit with you at the table and eat dinner too.

Try not to put pressure on them to eat. Now don’t get me wrong, this is quite the habit to try and get out of! But, saying things like, “come on, give it a try, it’s really yummy.” “Mmm yummy,” and so on, over and over, can put pressure on them and cause more of a problem. Instead talk about the texture, taste, where the food comes from etc.

Try and avoid having dinner when your little one is tired. Even if you have to bring dinner forward to 4.30pm. We all know a tired toddler is going to be far fussier and more reluctant to do or try anything new!

Serve small meals and a couple of options at a time. Sometimes a big plate of food with heaps of different options can be overwhelming for your little one.

Have set meal times/snack times. It is perfectly ok to set realistic boundaries about the time of day you offer meals and snacks. Routine around food is good and healthy! Think about it, if you are snacking right throughout the day, you’re never really going to feel overly hungry and you’re probably not going to eat a full lunch or dinner. Make sure snack times aren’t too close to lunch or dinner and if your little one genuinely is really hungry outside of these times and you need to give them something to tide them over until their next meal, make it something light and healthy.

Make sure they aren't having an excessive amount of milk. It can be very normal for toddlers to want to fill up on milk rather than food.

Finally, don’t stress too much! It is your responsibility as a parent to decide when your little one eats and what you offer. It is their responsibility to decide if they eat or how much they eat, you can’t force them. Allowing them to make that choice means they will learn to understand their body’s hungry and full cues, which is a really healthy and important connection to develop for healthy eating habits in the future.

If you think there is more to your little one’s fussiness or reluctance to eat, you think they are losing weight, or you are seeing any other red flags, don’t hesitate to get into your GP or contact a nutritionist to make sure there is nothing else going on.
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