Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

How can I get my 2-year-old to eat fruit?

My son has just turned two and has never eaten a piece of fruit in his life! He was a great baby to wean – he liked most things and ate very well. He was always on the upper end of the portion scale and gained weight well – in fact, he was a chubby baby. He also loved his milk. When he turned one he began to cut down on the amount of food he ate and also got very fussy.

The one thing he has never, ever eaten is raw fruit – he will happily have fruit purée, which I add to his breakfast and/or yoghurt to make sure he is getting the nutrition. He goes to nursery two mornings and one whole day a week and is offered fruit at every snack time and has never had it. At home we have a fruit bowl and eat lots of fruit but he can get quite upset if we offer it to him. He will put an apple to his mouth and bite into it so there are teeth marks but if any gets in his mouth he spits it out.

I am worried that his chewing has not developed properly. His favourite foods are soups, chicken nuggets and mashed potato (including shepherds pie etc) but he refuses pasta, rice, cheese and now gets upset if he is offered new foods. His favourite snacks are oat cakes/rice cakes and raisins.

Do you think he has a reluctance to chew or did not develop chewing properly or does the fact that he eats chicken nuggets, breadsticks etc mean this is not the case? He has just started having school dinners at nursery and so comes home hungry having not eaten at lunchtime on his half-days, and I don’t know whether to feed him or to make him wait until tea and then cook him something I know he will eat?

Any advice would be very welcome.

Finding fun and interesting ways to present fruit to your son could well help his reluctance to eat it. Apples can be tart and very chewy so it would be best to start off with softer fruits such as pear or peach and gradually work your way towards eating slices of apple.

As your son likes the taste of fruit purées begin to use the same fruits to add to homemade fruit jellies. Cut up peach, pear and grape into tiny pieces and add to the liquid jelly and allow to set. Serve them in small glasses so he can see the jelly’s colours shining. You could also begin to put small pieces of fruit into the purée you offer him, so he gets used to a lumpy texture. Add some small pieces to natural yoghurt as a change. Don’t overload his dishes with fruit, as he will quickly realize you are trying to force it on him. Begin with a few pieces and gradually add a few more when you serve it again.

As a weekend treat make him fruit kebabs. Use softer fruit such as strawberries, kiwis, banana, peach and pear. Cut them into inch sized cubes or thick slices and place each one onto a cocktail stick. Melt a small amount of good quality chocolate in the microwave and dip one side of each cube or slice into the chocolate. Leave on a piece of greaseproof paper until the chocolate has set and then thread them onto a wooden kebab skewer. This is something you could all enjoy eating as a family dessert or snack. A simpler idea than this would be to make a fruit dip, such as natural yoghurt flavored with fruit purée. Offer with small batons or slices of banana, peach, pear or strawberries and grapes to dunk and dip. Again, try to be matter-of-fact and detached when you offer him treats such as this, as all small children are very aware of a parent pushing them to eat “what is good for them” and use the food as a weapon against you. If you offer him a fruit jelly or fruit kebab without fuss at the end of him meal or at snack time and calmly eat your own he may be tempted to try it.

Raw fruit can be used to decorate dishes as a garnish. Use a couple of satsuma segments or a halved grape to decorate a bowl of rice pudding or yoghurt.

Depending on the cereal he is offered at breakfast you could begin to offer this with tiny pieces of fruit added, or find blueberries and raspberries to add which will all encourage him at least to taste different fruits.

Rather than expecting your son to eat apple slices straight away offer him some grated apple. If you use the coarse grater he will still have to do some chewing to eat this but it will be a little easier. Make sure you find a variety of apple which is sweet.

If you are genuinely worried about your son’s chewing be aware of giving him easy-to-hold finger food with a little more variety than he now has. Goujons of fish and chicken require some chewing, and again can be made fun when offered along side a savory dip. Serve potatoes in a different way from mashed sometimes. Cut new potatoes into small pieces once boiled, or offer as sautéed in olive oil and a small knob of butter as a treat.

You may need to look in parenting magazines or cookbooks for small children to get some ideas as to how to offer food to your son which will appeal to him. Often just adding small garnishes, using fancy cutters or making “picture” food will only take a few more minutes but can really encourage a child who maybe reluctant to try new things.

Always cut things into very small pieces. Small children can be lazy about chewing, and are easily overwhelmed if their food is offered to them in larger pieces. Keep portion sizes small so he is able to finish what is on his plate and have seconds if he would like.

When your son comes home from nursery offer him a healthy snack to see him through to his next meal. If he likes oatcakes, offer them with a nutritious spread and some raw vegetable sticks. This will be enough to keep him happy until teatime but also he will have a good appetite for his next meal. Try to offer him a variety of tea as it is all too easy to always offer your toddler those few dishes you know he will eat. Begin to offer one or two new things every week. Just give him a very small amount rather than a whole new dish to begin with and then gradually increase the amounts of the new food as it is accepted more. So add a few pasta pieces to some soup, or grate a few strands of cheese across his mashed potato the first time you offer it to him. It can take a child up to twenty times of being offered a new food for him to accept it, so keep trying as gradually he will begin to be a little more adventurous. If he has only just started to stay for meals at nursery it may take him a while to get used to eating there but he could well be positively influenced by seeing the other children around him tucking in. If he knows he will be offered a meal he likes as soon as he is home he will be less willing to begin to join in with the other children and trying the food they are enjoying.

Involving your child in food preparation and simple cooking will also encourage him to try new tastes. Make a game of naming the fruits you see in the supermarket. Teach him their colours. Ask him to help you arrange fruit on a plate for a snack for you both. Eat at least one of your meals each day with him, and try to be eating the same or similar meal as his.

During the second year a toddler’s appetite does decrease. They can become fussy and faddy and it is easy to begin to offer only the foods you know they like. No toddler will deliberately starve themselves, so don’t worry that he is hungry as he has refused a meal. Remove his plate without comment if he won’t eat what is being offered. Don’t offer him an alternative or extra large snack later. Gradually, if you begin to give him a wider variety of food, alongside the things he likes his overall eating should really improve.