Feeding FAQ: 18-24 months – Food Fussiness

Four weeks after illness my 20mth old son is still not eating properly again

My son has always been a good eater – apart from when he is ill or has a tooth coming through. During these times he will rely on sandwiches, toast and yoghurts. Because I know that he has always got back to normal eating once he feels better, I have gone along with this.

However, about four weeks ago, he got a bad chesty cold. Now he still has a bit of a cough and runny nose, but he is pretty much better – the problem is that he is still not eating. He sleeps fine – from 7pm til 7/7.30am and has a proper lunchtime nap.

He eats a Weetabix for breakfast at about 8am, then on the days when I have him he pretty much goes through to lunchtime (12 or 12.30pm) – maybe with a breadstick in between. Lunch has become cheese spread sandwiches and an organic, child-sized yoghurt, then he sleeps from around 1pm for an hour or an hour and a half. Until yesterday he has been having a little cup of milk when he wakes from his nap, but I decided to cut that out today in an attempt to get him to eat better.

Teatime is usually at 5pm and at the moment he will only eat toast or crackers and a cheese dip. Whenever I offer him anything else he just pushes the plate away. I know that the childminder tends to give him snacks throughout the day so I have asked her not to from now on. I usually have his cup with water available to him when ever he wants it – but he doesn’t drink huge quantities at once.

How do I encourage my son to go back to eating the variety of foods he used to? He hasn’t eaten any fresh fruit or vegetables now for about 4 weeks.
I offer him a proper meal every teatime – but every night it is refused.

Help! I am getting really upset that after all my efforts to ensure that he doesn’t turn into a fussy eater – he has done just that. What do you advise?

In the last 24 hours he has taken 1 Weetabix with milk, 2 mini breadsticks, mid-morning, offered cottage pie at lunchtime and refused. Given 2 slices of wholemeal bread with Dairylea cheese spread. Ate all of these and left the cherry tomatoes. 1 fruit yoghurt. Snack of raisins offered mid-afternoon. Tea: offered mashed potato, mixed vegetables and fishfingers. Refused them all so made toast which he ate. Refused sliced bananas. He took a cup of warm milk before bedtime.

Coaxing a child back into eating well again after illness can take time and determination, especially with this age group whose appetite can be small even when they are well. Now that you feel your son is much better you may have to begin to get a little tougher about offering him options when a meal is refused. Although you were lenient during his illness, now that he has recovered you can begin not to offer alternatives if a meal is refused. Very few toddlers will starve themselves. If they are really hungry and offered tasty, attractive, small meals they will accept them once they have realized there is no option being given. It may take a few days for this to happen and your son may protest, but persistence and remaining calm about food and his intake will help you immensely.

Serving food in a fun and different way can help. A simple meal of sausage and mashed potato can be turned into a spiky hedgehog sitting in grass made from peas. To begin with make his portions very small. Use a table spoon of potato in a mound on a plate. Slice two small chipolatas into “spikes” and add to the potato. Surround the hedgehog with a dessertspoonful of peas. You could add eyes made with two slices of carrot and present to him with a flourish. Give him portions which are smaller than he may have had in the past. It is far better for both of you if he clears his plate of a small portion, than picks away and appears to eat little of a larger one. Once he has finished the food on his plate ask him if he would like a little more, but don’t push him. Give him a very small portion of “seconds” if he would like some, and if he doesn’t manage to finish it then just remove his plate.

Think of different ways to present his food. You may have picnic plates which can be used, or serve teddy-sized pieces of pizza on a dolls tea set and enjoy a tea party with the teddies one afternoon.

Make fruit smoothies with natural yoghurt and fresh fruits. Spoon a small amount into an egg cup and present him with it, along with a tiny egg spoon.

Keep the portions small and serve his food in bite-sized pieces. Dips are often popular. Use a simple tomato sauce recipe and offer with steamed vegetable batons as well as one or two chicken or fish goujons to dip into it. Once you begin to think of ways to make ordinary meals enticing and attractive your son will probably begin to try things again, even if the first few days are met with refusal. If you are stuck for ideas many toddler cook books have plenty of “picture food” dishes which you can adapt and use as inspiration.

If your son rejects a meal, then without comment take the dish away and let him get down from the table. Offering him an alternative or yoghurt is no longer an option if you want things to change. It can be hard when you worry that your child is not eating but within a few days of not having an alternative he is bound to be accepting your meals again as he will realize the easy option is no longer on offer.

If your son usually receives a snack mid-morning or mid-afternoon, wait until then to offer him something else to eat. Make sure that this snack time is at least two hours before his next meal is due. Again you will need to offer him things which will entice him to eat, even though you may want to give him the things you know he will accept such as a breadstick. To help him get used to fruit again make up some ice lollies using fresh juice or natural yoghurt flavored with fruit puree and frozen. Another idea would be to have a selection of different fruits and use them as batons for a natural yoghurt dip. Again keep the portions very small, and take time to enjoy sharing a snack like this with your son. Don’t push him to eat more than he wants. Remove the snack after 15- 20 minutes and try not to comment if he has eaten nothing. Praise him when he does try something, but remaining calm and matter of fact about the whole issue is the best approach.

It is not easy to see your child constantly rejecting food you know he has accepted previously. Rejection of food is one of the hardest things to cope with for a mother, as the concern is always there that your child will be hungry. A few days of little eating will not affect him in the long run. You may have to find ways of passing the time before the next meal if he takes a few days to begin to accept food properly again. But activities such as painting and play dough can be arranged, as well as plenty of outdoor physical activity to help encourage his appetite.

Keep a diary for yourself of what he eats each day, however small it appears to you, looking at the overview of a week you will probably find he has begun to eat a wider variety of food again, once sandwiches and toast are no longer always offered. His appetite may still be small, as it can take a while for a toddler to regain this after a time of illness.

If, after a week of serving small, attractive meals with no alternatives your son is still refusing to eat properly it would be wise to discuss your concerns with your health visitor or doctor.