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December 13, 2016

Paediatric nutritionist Cherry Barker and registered dietitian Jane Dodd explain why toddlers turn their noses up at certain meals and how to handle the flying food and flat-out refusals

Somewhere between one and two years of age many toddlers, who previously ate most of what was put in front of them, might seem to get “fussy” with their food.  This can take many different forms: throwing or making a mess with food, flatly refusing to try what they’re offered or only eating a very limited range of foods.  

Aside from making mealtimes stressful, there is also the worry that your toddler is missing out on important nutrients or that they will only eat a limited range of foods. As frustrating as it can be, it might help to know that these responses are really normal and there is in fact a reasonable explanation for your little one putting their foot down (or clamping their jaws shut) over certain things.

Getting the hang of things

After one year of age, most toddlers begin to eat foods that are similar to the rest of the family, meaning lots of new tastes and textures for them. It’s perfectly normal for your toddler to not like things the first time they try them. You may need to offer the same new food seven or eight times and in various guises before they accept it. Try it cold or warm, sliced, diced, grated and mixed with other foods.

Full flavour hit

We have many more taste buds when we are younger. Not surprisingly some vegetables and other stronger smelling foods can take a bit of getting used to. Make sure that vegetables aren’t overcooked, as this increases their taste; lightly steamed vegetables are a good option at the start, then as the child gains more teeth allow them to try some well washed raw vegetables such as grated carrot, cucumber or raw capsicum. 

Saying ‘no’

Between one and two years of age, children learn to vocalise and exert their independence. Meals are the perfect time to show off these new skills and food isn’t necessarily the problem. Try to feed children before they’re overtired and include some foods they can pick up or feed themselves easily. Children also get bored with food, so introducing new ways of eating can be a good distraction.

Offer milk after meals or as a snack

When solids are first introduced, milk is still the most important food and feeding is more about teaching a child how to eat and getting them used to new tastes and textures. Once toddlers are eating a varied diet, similar to the rest of the family, milk remains important but is best offered after a meal or as a snack between main meals. If you are worried that your toddler is not getting the nutrients that he or she needs, you can offer a toddler milk that contains a good range of vitamins and minerals. Some may even contain a probiotic (see our feature on gut health on page 32). A toddler milk can be an easier way to ensure your child is getting some of those essential micronutrients without having to worry about how to get them to take a multivitamin.

No healthy toddler or child will starve themselves intentionally

Your little one will grow very quickly initially. Typically they triple their body weight in the first year, but after this growth slows. Despite being active, remember they still have little tummies and their appetites will vary depending on the stages they’re going through.

Teach your child to eat at meal (or snack) times, not between

Don’t offer food between meals if you think they’re missing out. Young children have smaller stomachs and don’t need to graze on food throughout the day. Healthy toddlers will generally eat to their appetite if offered a healthy and balanced diet. 

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