Toddler feeding difficulties

Fussy eating is one of the most common feeding problems and a normal stage of development that all toddlers will pass through.
Some toddlers are fussier than others and the parents of toddlers who continue to eat well throughout this stage may remain blissfully unaware that this developmental stage even exists. However if your toddler is very cautious about trying new foods it may become an exasperating time. Try to remember it is not your toddler’s fault that they’re cautious and wary of new foods.

A very fussy toddler may be in a family of two or more children and even though parents have treated all their children in the same way one toddler may be noticeably fussy about eating while the other children aren’t.

The situation can be made worse by:
  • Expecting your child to eat more than is needed
  • Becoming very anxious at meal times
  • Mismanaging meal times
  • Expecting your toddler to put on more weight than is normal for this age
Tips for parents who are worried that their toddler is not eating enough:
  • Ask your Healthcare Professional to measure your toddler’s weight and height accurately on calibrated scales, and plot them on growth charts. You may find they are growing satisfactorily and that even though they are eating what seems like a small amount, it is enough for them.
  • Record all the food and drinks your toddler eats and have it assessed by a dietician to see if it is adequate or if you toddler needs a vitamin and mineral supplement to make up any shortfall.
  • Check the number of drinks your toddler is having. Some toddlers prefer drinking to eating and readily fill themselves up with drinks. About 6 to 8 drinks of 3 to 4 fl oz is enough. If your toddler is still having drinks in bottles they may be filling themselves up with too much fluid and won’t have enough appetite for food.
  • Check the number of snacks your toddler is having. Some toddlers prefer snack foods and refuse meals in order to be given snacks instead. They may eat most of their food between meals and the snack food often tends to be high in fat, sugar and salt. There is often little or no incentive for the toddler to eat an appropriate meal if they are allowed to fill up on sweets, crackers and chips. Cut down snacks to just 2 per day and make them nutritious. Fruit or small sandwiches are good snack foods.
  • Limit meal times between 20 and 30 minutes and always offer one food that you’re sure your toddler will eat.

Management of very fussy eating behaviour

A consistent approach is essential when eating and all those involved in the care of your child, including relatives and child minders, must co-operate with any measures suggested.

Never threaten or force your child to eat specific foods. If a food offered at meal times is rejected, it should be removed without comment but don’t substitute it with more food before the next planned snack or meal time.

Preschool children’s eating habits often improve dramatically once they begin eating with other children on starting nursery or school.

Simple strategies for parents for management of food refusal
  • Offer small well-spaced meals and snacks.
  • To start with, give foods known to be well accepted.
  • Set a time limit for meal times, e.g. 30 minutes.
  • Give lots of praise, even if the smallest quantity of food is eaten.
  • Take away uneaten food without comment at the end of a meal.
  • Do not discuss eating and food with others in front of your child.
  • Do not coax or force your child to eat.
  • Keep calm.

Lifelong food restriction

A very small number of children do not grow out of this phase and continue to restrict the foods they eat throughout childhood. If they eat enough of the food they like, for energy and take a vitamin and mineral supplement to address any deficiencies, they will grow and develop normally despite a very restricted diet.

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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