Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

How can I get my toddler to enjoy eating more?

My daughter has been a very fussy eater from around 12 months. She was referred to the local children’s hospital when she was 1 because of her poor weight gain. The consultant couldn’t find anything wrong apart from the fact that she was petite for her age. Our health visitor then suggested introducing a high calorie diet, for instance adding butter to toast or cream to soups etc.The variety of food she eats is limited and her portion sizes are very small. Sometimes she refuses meals completely. She is unwilling to try different foods and sometimes will only eat something if she is fed, rather than feeding herself (of which she is totally capable). She refuses to be left at nursery for lunch and gets very upset (she refuses to eat most of the things that nursery serves for lunch).
I am following Gina’s weaning book for my 8 month old baby, and so far she is happily eating everything. I would love to be able to feed the whole family the same meals and am at the end of my tether with my eldest, who makes it difficult for us to eat out (without taking a separate meal for her) and have friends/family round (this often causes a scene).
I try to ensure that my daughter is getting food from all the food groups, but I worry a lot that her eating habits are affecting her growth and that she doesn’t seem to be eating any larger portion sizes as she gets older. My daughter is 2 yrs 7mths and at present weighs 1.5stone.

Getting your daughter more interested in food could help her. As she is now old enough to be able to help you prepare meals, encourage her to be your helper. There are plenty of children’s cooking sets available with aprons, spoons and child-sized tins which you could give her to make her position as “helper” important.
Think of ways to make food attractive to her. Use a pizza base and get decorating together. A face is easy to make, using slices of tomato, strips of pepper and grated cheese. If your baby is ready to eat things like this, get your daughter to make her siblings food as well as her own. This will help her to see preparing food and eating as a social activity.
Using simple cake mixes can be a fun activity for a rainy afternoon, but you could also make up some pastry which she could roll and cut out into tart shapes. You could bake these blind and then fill them with fruits and a jam glaze, or make up a quiche-type filling and bake them for the children’s tea.
Look in simple cookery books for ideas. Your daughter could choose something she likes the look of and could help make it for the family. Although you will probably need to do most of the “cooking”, there will be always be some things your daughter could help with.
Encouraging your daughter to be more interested in food generally, getting her to help shop and prepare for meals, could help her be more interested in eating the same things as the rest of the family.
Let her have a picnic type tea with her toys, where she decides what to serve and let her decide what her friends are served when they come round for tea. In general, getting your daughter a little more involved in the preparation of food, should help her be a little more adventurous in eating a wider variety of foods. Using the foods she does like in different ways, may be a challenge to you, but help her accept different foods such as the ones served at nursery. Finding books about where food comes from, and beginning to compile a scrapbook of favourite recipes, will all help. You could photograph a meal she has helped to make and write out the recipe, so she recalls the pleasant times that eating as a family brings. Taking the tension out of mealtimes is never easy, especially with a child who has a small appetite, but once you begin to find ways to make food and its preparation more appealing to her, you should find she is more willing to experiment.