Food refusal is a normal phase that most toddlers pass through - try not to worry its very normal!
- Fear of new foods in the second year may be a survival mechanism to prevent increasingly mobile toddlers from poisoning themselves through eating anything and everything.
- Toddlers may limit the variety of foods they eat. This phase will normally pass without any problems but remember this phase may last for a few years and will be more evident in some toddlers than in others.
- Your toddler may refuse a food if it is new to him or her. They need to taste it a few times to learn to like it, so always offer it the next time you are eating it. They may also refuse a food that they have eaten before, if it doesn’t look right.
- Some toddlers are more likely to refuse foods than others, even in the same family.
- Toddlers refuse extra food when they have eaten enough and may be self-regulating how much food they want - which is a good thing!
Your toddler may eat less food than other toddlers of the same age. If your toddler is growing and developing normally then he or she is taking the right quantity of food for his or her own needs. If you are concerned then you can always book a weight/ height check at a Starting Well Open Advice Clinic. We often offer to much food as a portion size - see the top tips for more info on portion size.
Video by InfantToddlerForum
- Remember that the quantity of food toddlers eat may vary from day-to-day. Some parents get anxious about this and toddlers then tend to react to parental anxiety by reducing intake.
The amount your toddler may eat day to day will vary and its about how much they have over a week being more important.
Toddlers may also lose their appetite if they are:
- not feeling well
- shouted at
- pressured to eat more food when they have had enough
- pressured to eat food they dislike
- frequently offered foods that they dislike or find disgusting
- continually offered food and drinks throughout the day
- rushed at mealtimes
- feeling sad, lonely, anxious or insecure
For most toddlers fussy eating is just a phase that they eventually pass through.
However if the problem persists or you have some concerns, speak to the Starting Well Team or GP. They will be able to check your child’s growth and development.
What can I do?
Here are some ideas which may help:
- Let your child decide how much to eat. Toddlers have small stomachs and can’t eat much food at one time. Give them small portions and praise them for eating, even if they only manage a little. Offer healthy snacks, like fruit, between meals.
- It isn’t always easy to get the family to sit down to enjoy a meal together. But it is worth the effort. Sharing family meals gives everyone a chance to catch up and enjoy each other’s company. Watching you and other family members eat a range of foods can encourage your child to try new foods. Research suggests that children who have meals with their family do better in lots of ways, including being healthy and doing well at school.
- Offer your child a few different things to eat on their plate to encourage them to eat. You may be tempted to offer your child treats just so they ‘eat something’. If you offer fatty, sugary or salty snacks instead of healthy foods – your child may become fussier because they know they will be offered other options.
- It helps to have meal times at a similar time every day. Try to have meals before your child gets too hungry or tired to eat.
- Your child may not eat the same amount each time. Just like you, some days your child will be hungry and other times they will be less hungry.
- Get your child involved in preparing the meal. Your child will love doing this and it may help them to try new food.
- Let toddler’s feed themselves. Give a toddler finger foods (cut food into strips or fingers) and let your child use their hands rather than a spoon or fork. In the early days of learning to eat, your child will find this easier to manage.
- Let older children serve themselves and have limited choices – “do you want broccoli or green beans?”.
- Give them the same food in a different way. Your child may refuse cooked carrots but enjoy raw carrots cut into sticks.
- Ignore the fussing as much as you can. If you give your child lots of attention when they are fussy or refusing food, it may encourage them to keep behaving that way. Instead be positive and calm and praise them when trying new foods.
- Avoid distractions. Try to switch off the TV and eat at the table away from their toys or other distractions.
- Handle accidents in a calm way. Your child’s skills are still developing, so spills are likely to happen. Meal time messes will be easier to clean up if you put some plastic or newspaper under your child’s (high)chair.
Tips for Meal Times 0-5 - pdf