Feeding FAQ: 12-18 months – Food Fads/Fussiness

In the past weeks my 17 month son has become fussy and is refusing some meals.

My son, who is 17mths old used to be a very good eater but for the past 4 weeks he has become very fussy and refusing meals altogether. He goes to nursery Monday to Wednesday but always has breakfast at home with me which is usually Weetabix. He eats well at nursery – they have a snack at about 9am which will be fruit, toast or something similar, lunch at about 11.30 which will be proper cooked meal followed by dessert then about 3-3.30 he will have a light snack for tea which will be sandwiches, scones or crumpets. When he comes home I usually serve him a proper meal at about 6pm which will be soup, quiche and vegetables, pizza, spaghetti bolognese which he refuses. It is getting really frustrating now as I am worried he is not eating enough. I know everyone says if a child is hungry they will eat but I still worry. What makes things worse is he has a cousin 3 months younger and everyone always compares them. Although my son eats more, his cousin looks bigger, although he is not as active as only started crawling few months ago and not walking. So I am stuck on ideas on how to get him back to his old ways and I also worry he is underweight!? I think he weighs between 25lb 10 oz – 26 lb and is about 86 cm in height? Also at nursery he sometimes has seconds of lunch and dessert whilst at home he refuses both? – I am beginning to think I am doing something wrong.

He naps from 12.30-2pm and is settled at night by 7.30pm. He sleeps through the night to 6.30am.

Toddlers of this age can become quite fussy and picky about meals. Your son is obviously walking so will be on the go all the time. It would make you think that he would need more food to keep going now than he did before. But the opposite seems to often happen. A toddler’s appetite decreases and he seems to need smaller meals than those he may have been eating a few months ago. It is always a worry to see meals being refused but a small child will not starve themselves. Providing he is full of energy by day and sleeping well at night try not to worry about it too much. Comparing him with his cousin will only worry you further. Accept that your son may be an entirely different build and body make-up to his cousin. Children develop at different rates. Your son and his cousin will go through growth spurts at different stages despite being so near in age. When they are grown up they may have totally different body shapes.

A toddler who is walking well will begin to lose his baby shape and thin down a lot. Now his body is using more energy than a child who is only crawling.

When your son comes home from nursery he must be pretty tired. Just as an adult does, your son will need to eat but will need something easy as well as tempting. Try to think of more things which you can give him which he can eat with his fingers. Goujons of chicken and fish can be made at home and given to him with a dip of some kind. Omelettes, frittatas and pancakes can all be eaten with fingers if cut up into small pieces. Use cooked vegetables, cheese and small flakes of fish to add to them. Individual pizzas can be made and decorated to look like a face to tempt him. As he will have eaten well at lunchtime, and had some carbohydrates at 3-3.30pm, he won’t need a large meal at 6pm but something easy to eat.

There is an interesting case study in The Contented Child’s Food Bible, p152, which is about a toddler of 14 months and how the contents and amounts of her meals needed to change slightly when having meals at nursery.

Don’t be tempted to pile too much on his plate. Offer him a small portion of food on a larger plate. This will not be so overwhelming to him, especially if he is tired. Give him lots of praise when he does eat this and very gradually increase the amounts, but don’t expect him to have a very large appetite at any one meal. Toddlers rarely do unless going through a growth spurt.

Look at your son’s food intake over a week rather than on a day-to-day basis and you will see that it balances itself out. Some days he will eat better than on others. On one day he may only have two servings of carbohydrates but on another he may have four to five. It averages itself out if he is offered small but nutritious meals and snacks.

Your son does still drink quite a bit of milk, which is fine, but if you also add up how much he has in cooking and puddings he is well up to the daily maximum of 20ozs recommended for this age. Although drinking milk is to be encouraged, too much can take the edge off the appetite. On his nursery days he sometimes has milk at 3.30pm. This, along with his snack, will fill him up so he won’t be so hungry for his supper at 6pm. Finding things he can enjoy at supper may take a bit of time but you will discover that he probably eats quite a bit if he is given easy to hold finger food.

If you would like to know the daily portions recommended for a child of his age look in The Contented Child’s Food Bible, page 105.