fussy eating toddler

Fussy Eating – How to Tackle Fussy Toddler

Fussy or finicky eating is extremely typical in toddlers and young children; it frequently begins about the time they begin to move independently and can reach a peak around age two. If your child is not a picky eater, you are really fortunate because neophobia (the fear of new things) is a period that most kids experience. It is believed that the ability to keep young children from eating poisonous berries and other such things off the ground is an evolutionary characteristic.

My 4 year old is going through an extended fussy stage so I can empathise on this subject, it’s very frustrating!

What does fussy eating means in toddler?

Fussy eating also known as picky, faddy or choosy eating. Strong food preferences and a refusal to explore new or familiar meals are characteristics of this condition. Poor early childhood dietary variety may be one of the effects. This can then result in worries about the diet’s nutrient makeup and potential negative health effects. There is no one universally agreed-upon definition of fussy eating, hence there is minimal agreement on the best diagnostic tool and a wide range of prevalence estimates.

Early feeding difficulties, late weaning introduction of lumpy foods, peer pressure to eat, and early pickiness are all causes of picky eating, particularly if the mother is concerned about it. Provision of fresh foods and eating the same meal as the kid are protective factors. The risk that a kid would be extremely fussy is raised by feeding difficulties during complementary feeding and the late introduction of lumpy foods (after 9 months). Being picky at 15 months was a good indicator, especially if the mother was concerned about this behaviour.

Repeated exposure to novel foods, parental modelling of eating fruits, vegetables, and novel meals, and the development of healthy social interactions around mealtimes are all methods for preventing or treating fussy eating.

Is picky eating normal for toddlers?

Now, fussy, picky or faddy eating is on a sliding scale which goes all the way to oral hypersensitivity and extreme food refusal. Oral hypersensitivity is more like a phobia to food and children will often hate things in their mouths or getting messy at all. They may also have very rigid behaviours such as only eating crunchy things, food of a certain colour, or food that has to be the same brand. If your child is displaying any of these signs, please speak to your GP or Paediatrician, they may need to be referred to a specialist feeding clinic. If you are not sure, I would be happy to have a chat to establish if specialised help is needed. If you believe your child is losing weight, has symptoms of extreme fatigue or gastrointestinal problems including constipation please contact your GP or Dietitian.

What I am talking about here is behavioural picky eating, so for example my child is very picky with lots of food and would only eat sausage and chips if he were to choose but will eat other things when encouraged and he loves olives. Clearly he is not orally hypersensitive and most importantly he is lively, healthy and is growing appropriately.

How do I get my toddler to stop picky eating?

If you‘re struggling with a picky eater, you‘re not alone. Many parents go through this phase with their toddlers. Here are a few tips to help you get through it. So, how do we tackle fussy eating? Well, there are whole books on the subject so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but here are a few pointers.

The Golden Rules of tackling fussy eating:

  1. RELAX! I know you don’t believe me, but if you’re stressed, everyone else will also be stressed out by the circumstance. If kids aren’t looking forward to meals because of the environment, you may be be facing a problem before they’ve ever sat down. It‘s important to remember that this phase is usually temporary. With time and patience, most toddlers will eventually outgrow it.
  2. Have 3 regular meal times sat at the table. You may have to have a star chart to even get this far! It is ideal for the whole family to sit down together but if you can’t, at least sit down next to your child while they are eating. Serve small portions. Your child may not be hungry, or may not like the food you’re serving.
  3. You dictate what is on the menu. Don’t ask them what they want as they will then refuse anything you suggest. If you have nailed number 2 then you present them with food as they sit down. Offer a variety of foods. Some children are more likely to eat new foods if they’re offered alongside familiar favorites.
  4. Offer food that is acceptable to them along with a challenging food. It depends how fussy your child is, a lot will be ok with the challenging food being on their plate, some will not. You may have to put what the rest of the family are having on a small plate next to them. If they show ANY interest in the challenging food, heap praise on them. Even if they just smell or poke it.
  5. When your child refuses to eat something, DON’T react. Children love attention and unfortunately that can include negative attention. Just ignore any unwanted behaviour or shrug it off.
  6. Praise any wanted behaviour. This can include sitting at the table, smelling food, touching food, talking about food and of course eating food. Star charts or getting stickers for eating well can be good motivators too.
  7. Get children involved. With everything food related, shopping, planning, cooking, even growing food. The more you demystify food the better. And it’s a great sense of achievement for children to eat something they have made.
  8. DON’T make deals! Never say, if you eat this you can have your pudding. All they have heard is pudding and it’s game over! Avoid using food as a reward. This can create a negative association with certain foods.
  9. ALWAYS offer pudding. I know it’s counter-intuitive but it doesn’t need to be chocolate fudge cake. A yoghurt and a piece of fruit would be fine. have the second course just means they have more opportunity for extra nutrients.
  10. DON’T disguise or hide food. They are not daft, it might work in tomato sauce a few times but as soon as they figure it out they’re not even going to eat the original food that they did like.
  11. Remember that their portions should be quite small. If they say they are full after a few mouthfuls then they might be. The Infant and toddler forum have an excellent fact sheet which shows what portion sizes should look like, click here.
  12. Give them a supplement containing vitamin D. New guidance has come out which recommends that everyone in the British population should be taking a vitamin D supplement, children need 10mcg or 400IU per day. And if you think their diet is particularly narrow give them a multivitamin suitable for their age.

And remember, this is not going to go better on its own. It’s a drawn-out, lengthy procedure. A toddler must experience something 15 times before becoming accustomed to it. I am aware that it is challenging, but try not to worry. Your child is generally doing okay if they are active, growing healthily, opening their bowels, and passing pee on a regular basis.

Seek professional help if needed. If you‘re really struggling to get your child to eat, it may be worth seeking help from a pediatrician or registered dietitian.

The Infant and Toddler Forum  and www.gosh.nhs.uk from Great Ormond Street Hospital have good factsheets on fussy or picky eating. If you need general advice on healthy eating for children, this fact sheet from the BDA is useful.

If you are still worried and need to speak to somebody urgently, you can contact me and I can help or advise who is best to speak to.