Fussy eating and food refusal is common and something that parents often ask me about. So I will start by saying that if you have a toddler who is eating very little, rejecting new foods and/or refusing to eat foods that they have happily eaten before, don’t worry, this is quite normal behaviour and you are therefore not alone. Refusing to eat certain foods can mean different things for different babies at different times. It may just be their way of getting your attention. It may just be that they don’t like the taste or texture of a particular food at a particular time, but this doesn’t mean they will always refuse the same food. For some foods you may need to offer it more than ten times before they’ll happily eat it. My daughter refused peas for years, I even resorted to hiding them in her mashed potato to try and get her to eat them (although of course she always found them!), but now she loves them!

Apart from feeling slightly frustrated that your toddler won’t eat the delicious meal you have prepared for them and that it will go to waste, you’re probably more worried that if they aren’t eating that they won’t be getting the nutrients they need to grow properly. But don’t worry, this is usually just a phase that toddlers go through, it may be that they just aren’t really that hungry and they won’t starve if they don’t eat what you give them at each mealtime. But if you are really concerned about your little one’s weight, growth or eating then have a chat with your GP or healthcare professional.

There are a few ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ in the table below that might help:

Do

Don’t

Stick to your normal routine

Change everything to fit in with their food refusals - the more you do this the more likely the problem will continue

Stay relaxed and keep mealtimes calm occasions

Give up!

Sit back and allow them to touch and play with the food while you eat something yourself.  You can be a great role model for them to copy in their own time.

Force them to eat – the more pressure you put on them, the less likely they are to eat. Withdraw the food without any fuss and try it again another time

Keep offering the foods they have refused – the more often you expose a toddler to a food, the more likely they are to accept it and eat it

Add foods to a ‘won’t eat’ list too soon – keep trying them

Keep mealtimes regular and short – consistency is reassuring for children

Prolong mealtimes in the hope this will make them eat. This doesn’t usually work

 

Offer little tastes of lots of different foods

Overwhelm them with large portions

Introduce new or rejected foods alongside ‘will eat’ foods

Limit the foods you offer to just a few types

 

Accept if they don’t want to eat a food; remove it and try it again another time when they are hungry

Give ‘will eat’ treats as an alternative at mealtimes if they refuse their meal – all this will do is teach your toddler that if they refuse a food, they will get a food they like instead!

Praise and encourage your child

Scold them if they don’t accept a food

And remember, it’s what your toddler is eating on a weekly or monthly basis rather than daily that really counts. As longas they are growing steadily and are healthy and well, you don’t need to worry!