Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

My 26-month-old daughter demands juice all day and has tantrums a lot

My daughter is, and always has been, very strong willed. She was a good eater up until the age of 13 months when she refused to be spoon fed. She was having 2 bottles of milk a day and slept all night and had 2 naps during the day. She ate a limited variety of finger foods for 6 months (e.g. organic baby bars, bread & butter, rusks, sausages and anything sweet). One day she started eating with a spoon and tucked in to fromage frais, porridge and fruit puree. Slowly she started eating toast, fish fingers, potato faces, some pasta, cereal, ham, baked beans, mini cheddars and anything sweet like cake or biscuits. She has 1 weak bottle of apple juice in the morning, 1 when she wakes up from her nap and a small cup just before she goes to bed. She demands juice all the time and hates sitting at the table in her chair to eat. She can take up to 21ozs of weak apple squash during the day.
Her breakfast may be 5 tbsp of apple puree, cereal or toast [very little of either], biscuit or apricot bread and butter. For lunch she is offered ham, sausages, mini cheddars or fish fingers and beans [the amount she eats varies, sometimes she eats nothing]. In the afternoon she has either fruit or a biscuit and for tea she is offered macaroni cheese or chips and ham [she eats little, sometimes nothing] followed by fromage frais, yoghurt or rice pudding. She quite often doesn’t eat anything and then ends up with a biscuit or some fruit. Her tantrums have got really bad in the last week. She constantly moans and whinges anyway, but now she throws herself on the floor, lashes out, chucks things around, screams really loudly and won’t get up. I have tried putting her in her room until she calms down, which she does sometimes, and then once she has said “sorry” she goes back to being naughty.

The amount of juice/squash that your daughter is consuming daily is affecting both her appetite and probably her behaviour. To be drinking this amount of fluid throughout the day will take away her appetite and she will refuse meals through not being hungry. Snacking on biscuits and fruit will only add to her being less hungry every meal time. The amount of sugar that both juice and squash contain, even when greatly diluted, could well be having some effect on her overall behaviour. Your daughter should be taking all her drinks from a cup now. Again you may meet resistance over bottles but remain calm and firm and explain that as she is two she drinks from a cup like everyone else. Encourage her to be a “big girl” and give her praise when she manages to drink her water from a cup rather than a bottle.
At two, tantrums are not uncommon in most children. There can be many reasons why some children appear to have more than others. These include frustration, a growing sense of independence, the child’s character and how the carers around them deal with each outburst. Now is the time to begin to set limits and boundaries for your daughter in all areas of her life, not to restrict her but to give her a sense of security knowing that all the people who care for her have the same approach to her behaviour and eating habits. She might not appreciate this at first but in time, if all her carers are consistent in their approach, she will begin to realise that her tantrums will not be given into. Alongside these limits she needs to receive praise for good behaviour when it is appropriate. This will help her self-esteem and confidence but must not be overdone as small children can very quickly learn to become dependant on it or rebel against it. Used properly, praise can help a small child behave in an appropriate way most of the time and begin to grow up to be a well-adjusted child. We also need to teach our children how to behave. Our example and how we react to them is important. Encouraging a child to behave well is just as helpful as praising them for doing so.
To help your daughter with her eating habits, begin to reduce the amount of squash or juice she has during the day. Dilute it more and more until it is only water and she may well decide she does not need so much. With her other carers at home, plan when her meal and snack times will be. Most children of this age do not have a very large appetite and are often better having 3 main meals a day, and two healthy snacks spaced in between. Her nursery probably has this in place already. Once you have decided on the times of her meals, explain to her that she must sit at the table to eat. You could perhaps find some cheap fun children’s crockery to have as her own and get her to help you set her place. It would help her greatly if at least one of her meals was taken at the same time and with the same food as yourself or her Daddy/Granny. Perhaps breakfast could be a time when you could eat together, as the social side of meals is as important as the content of them. Explain to her that she may eat as much or as little as she likes, but once she has got down from the table there will be nothing more to eat or drink until her snack time. You may be worried, thinking that if she has eaten a very small amount of breakfast she will be hungry or thirsty before this snack.
She may be on the first few days but as you have decided to organize and control her eating and drinking habits you need to remain firm but calm if she begins to whinge and whine long before her snack is due. This is why all her carers must be prepared to deal with her in the same way, as she will soon realise who will and who will not give into her and her tantrums could well begin to escalate. Plan some fun activities for the morning to do together such as Play-Doh or drawing. Be prepared to sit with her and play alongside her for short spells of time. She may also enjoy helping you around the house. Two year olds can be very effective at dusting and like to feel that they are doing “grown up work”. To them, using grown-up dusters and brushes is as exciting as a new toy. Once her snack time comes, tell her she may have her snack and a drink of water once she is sitting at the table. Try to give her healthy alternatives such as: mini rice cakes, raw vegetables and a dip as well as fruit. Biscuits should be used very sparingly and until her overall eating has improved, then it would better not to offer them at all. Again in the beginning she may not like what is being offered to her and demand the things she is used to. It is important not to give her too many choices as most two year olds become overwhelmed and will refuse everything or constantly change their minds. Decide on two acceptable alternatives to you and tell her she may choose one of them: “Would you like some carrot sticks and dip, or a piece of fruit?”. If both are refused then do not offer anything else until the next meal. It may be hard to begin with but keep calm and use the same simple explanation: “I know you are cross because you want a biscuit but today you may have fruit or carrots. If you don’t want them then there is nothing else until lunchtime”. If you begin to get her to help you in simple tasks of getting snacks and meals ready, she may be more willing to sit and enjoy them. Keep her unbreakable crockery in a cupboard she can reach. When it is snack time ask her to fetch herself a cup and plate. Encourage her to help you put out some carrot sticks or fruit on her plate. Sit with her and enjoy a snack yourself.

With her main meals begin to vary a little what she is offered. Give her small portions as her appetite is not big at this age. Most two-year-olds who are good eaters will eat one fish finger, a tablespoon of peas, a tablespoon of chopped carrots or 2 or 3 small broccoli florets. Give her very small portions but with plenty of colour and variety so her meal looks appetising. Add very small amounts of things she may not usually eat, such as vegetables. If she finishes everything on her plate then offer her dessert. Again be aware how much sugar there can be in some fromage frais. Plain yoghurt with unsweetened puree would be better. If she doesn’t finish her meal then don’t be tempted to let her have an alternative such as fruit. Again she must wait until her snack time. If she plays around or wants to get down without finishing take her meal away and explain she may have something to eat at her next snack time. Consider using a star chart and reward with an extra story at bedtime rather than with sweets or biscuits if she has managed to eat her meals well and sat at the table each time.

Star charts can be a great way for small children to visibly see that they have behaved well as they are invariably impressed with being awarded a shiny star! You could add in a line for using a cup.

To help her have less tantrums try to see what starts them off. Is she tired, bored, frustrated or hungry? If you think it is the last, don’t be tempted to give her a biscuit or drink unless it is her snack or meal time. If you are consistent and persistent in offering healthy meals and snacks she will less likely to have tantrums through hunger. If she is tired then find a quite occupation such as a jigsaw or book to look at together. If you think she is bored look at her general day and how much outside time she has: Is there plenty of opportunity for her to run and climb in a park or your garden? Take her for a walk and talk about what you see on the way; many of the everyday sights in a street are fascinating to small children. Get her to help you around the house with simple chores. Look at her toys and remove all those which she is too old for. Too many toys about often lead to a small child being unable to play with anything for any length of time. Put away as much as you can in baskets which are labelled with a picture of their contents. Sort out bricks from dolls and books from jigsaws so she can see what she has and decide what she would like to play with. Encourage her to put toys away when she has finished with them before choosing something else. If she does have a tantrum, and it is not always possible to head them off, try holding her with her back to you until she calms down. Then tell her “good calming” and suggest a new thing to do. If you do need to talk to her about her behaviour or get her to do something, get down to her eye level and hold her hands by her sides so she has to look at you. Use short and simple sentences rather than long explanations. By using small opportunities throughout the day to encourage her and point out her good behaviour: “that is a great tower you are building”, she will learn that is much better to behave and play than have a tantrum and spend time in her room. Turning a two-year-olds behaviour around is not easy and there may be days when you cannot see any improvement despite all your changes. Keep going as a change in her general eating habits and lessening her intake of squash, along with encouragement and appropriate activities, should help her in all areas.