Toddler mealtime tips

Your little one may well be going through their ‘fussy’ stage. Don’t worry, this is normal and they should grow out of it. In the meantime, we’ve put together some coping strategies for you to help take the stress out of mealtimes.

Mealtime do’s and don’ts for toddlers

DO

  • Eat with your toddler as often as possible – toddlers learn by copying their parents and other children
  • Keep a food diary of what your child eats throughout the day, rather than worrying about the amount eaten at each meal
  • Relax and go with the fussy eating – your toddler will grow out of it
  • Try to offer something your toddler likes at every meal
  • Develop a daily routine of three meals and two to three snacks around your child’s sleeping pattern – toddlers don’t eat well if they become over hungry or very tired
  • Check your toddler is not still drinking too much milk – avoid large bottles of milk and no more than three small cups of 4fl oz each day
  • Offer two courses at meals: one savoury course followed by a sweet course – this gives two opportunities for your child to take in the calories and nutrients needed and the variety makes the meal more interesting
  • Make positive comments about the food as toddlers will be more willing to try it, parents and carers are strong role models
  • Offer finger foods as often as possible – toddlers enjoy having the control of feeding themselves with finger foods and like to feel involved
  • Eat in a calm, relaxed environment without distractions such as TV, games and toys – toddlers can usually only concentrate on one thing at a time
  • Finish the meal within about 20 to 30 minutes and accept that after this your child is not going to eat any more – carrying the meal on for too long is unlikely tohelp, it’s better to wait for the next snack or meal
  • Praise your toddler when eating well and simply take away any uneaten food without comment

DON'T

  • There’s no need to panic if your child stops eating a particular food, this won’t generally last
  • Don’t insist your child finishes everything on their plate – toddlers should be allowed to eat to their appetite
  • You can tell when your child has had enough when your toddler says no or pushes away a spoon, bowl or plate of food
  • Your little one may hold food in their mouth and refuse to swallow it, or spit food out repeatedly. If your toddler cries, screams, shouts, gags or retches when you try to feed – that’s a sure sign it’s time to stop
  • Don’t talk about being fussy – this will be understood and your child may start to feel tense at meal times
  • Never take away a refused meal and offer a completely different one in its place. In the long run it is better to offer family meals and accept that some foods will be preferred to others
  • Don’t offer the sweet course as a reward – you’ll make it seem more desirable
  • Avoid large drinks of milk, squash or fruit juice within an hour of the meal, offer water instead
  • Don’t offer snacks just before a meal – the snacks will stop your child feeling hungry enough for the food you are offering at the meal.
  • Don’t be tempted to give a snack very soon after a meal hasn’t been eaten. It’s best to have a set meal pattern and wait until the next snack or meal
  • Don’t assume that because your child has refused a food it will never be eaten again – tastes change with time, and often toddlers need to be offered a new food more than 10 times before they feel confident to try it
  • Forget about feeling guilty if one meal turns into a disaster – just put it behind you and approach the next meal positively (parents also learn by making mistakes)
  • If your toddler doesn’t t eat well when eating out, don’t worry – new surroundings can be too distracting to make food seem interested

Eating patterns in One to Two year old toddlers

At some point during their second year babies become much choosier about the foods they will eat, as they become more assertive. Your young toddler may:

  • Eat less than you expect them to
  • Refuse to taste new foods you offer
  • Refuse to eat certain foods including some they have previously eaten well

Neophobia

This is a normal developmental phase for young toddlers. It is called a neophobic response to food – ‘neophobia’ means fear of new.

This stage develops soon after toddlers have begun walking, are becoming more adept at getting about and can roam further to investigate their environment. The fear of new foods is probably a survival mechanism to prevent mobile young toddlers from harming themselves through eating anything and everything. If they were to taste any interesting looking berry on a bush they could well poison themselves.

Once the neophobic stage begins, your child may refuse to even try a taste of a new food they are not familiar with. Toddlers will take much longer to learn to like and eat new foods than babies:

  • Your child may need to watch others eating an unseen food several times before becoming confident enough to try it
  • Your child may take much longer now to learn to like a certain food, so provide a little taste each time you include it in a meal

Why your toddler may be refusing to eat a particular food

Differences in appearance

  • It may not be exactly the same as what your child is used to. It may be a broken biscuit rather than a whole one, it may have a small blemish on it, for example a mark on the skin of an apple. Because it’s different your toddler may be wary of eating it.

Likes – and dislikes

  • The taste may be disliked
  • It may have been touched by another food your child doesn’t like
  • The food may be on the same plate as another food your child doesn’t like

Please be aware that the information given in these articles is only intended as general advice and should in no way be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or your family or your child is suffering from symptoms or conditions which are severe or persistent or you need specific medical advice, please seek professional medical assistance. Philips AVENT cannot be held responsible for any damages that result from the use of the information provided on this website.

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