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.

Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

Our daughter has always refused meals. How can we encourage her to eat better?

For two years my wife has had a running battle with our daughter of 2 years 4 months at mealtimes. We have tried removing it when she says “no”, to telling her to face the corner until she eats. Neither have been a success. The GP’s are not worried as she is gaining weight, (she is currently 11kg) but for my wife it is a nightmare. If we travel the whole feeding experience is even worse. We are both at our wit’s end and it seems as if our daughter wins at every mealtime. When she doesn’t eat she wakes up at night and is tired the next day. What can we do? At present she will take 4-5 spoons of cereal at breakfast, 1-2 spoons at lunch and dinner of pasta and rice. Sometimes she eats less than this. She has 2-3 cups of water and milk during the day. She sleeps from 1-3pm and from 8pm-7am.

From your notes it appears that your daughter was weaned quite late at 10months. As feeding her has always been difficult, it may well be connected with this. As she was older when solid food was first introduced she may have missed the stages when she was ready to learn skills such as chewing and this is now continuing to cause problems.
As you rightly observe the whole issue of food has become a battle, which your daughter is constantly winning. As she is gaining weight and apparently well, it is as important to change your own attitude towards the problem and how you handle it, as well as changing her attitude towards food and mealtimes. The whole situation needs to be diffused.

As your daughter seems to have a very limited diet, continue to serve what you know she will eat, but in very small portions. Use smaller plates or bowls, even toy ones to help her. Both you and she will psychologically feel better if she finishes one small bowl of pasta and rice, rather than picking at a much larger one. Praise her for her empty plate, but don’t offer her any more unless she requests it. If there is another course for you, then again put a small portion on a small plate for her. If she refuses it, then just take it away without comment. Mealtimes have become time times of great tension for you all. Once she has finished, allow her to leave the table and don’t offer her anything else until the next meal is due. Continue in this way but very gradually begin to increase the amounts that you offer her. If she shows interest in other dishes, then give her a very small portion and let her try them. Praise her if she just tries and ignore any refusals.

Alongside this strategy, begin to get her more involved in food preparation, the social side of meals and even in the buying of food. At her age she can be encouraged to help stir sauces, whisk eggs and mix dry ingredients, arrange salad stuffs on a plate and even decorate a finished dish for you all to enjoy. She is able to help lay a table by counting through place mats and napkins: “one for Mummy, one for Daddy and one for me”, and also fetch spoons and forks.

Encourage her with cookery sessions in the kitchen making cakes or biscuits, pizzas and sandwiches. These are all things she can then sit down and enjoy to eat.
Take her on a shopping trip and tell her where food comes from. Encourage her to learn the names of fruit and vegetables and to tell you their colours. Encourage her to see how lovely a shiny red pepper is to look at and hold, how dusty an unwashed potato is as it has been dug from the ground.
If you have a garden then growing herbs and vegetables can all encourage an interest in food other than fighting about it. Even without a garden, mustard and cress can be grown on a window sill, seeds such as alfalfa sprouted in a jam jar, and yoghurt made either in a maker or by following a recipe. Getting your daughter interested in all aspects of food, not just the battle she can win by declining it, should help diffuse the situation. Keeping yourselves slightly distant too, not being drawn into a battle of wills at each mealtime, should also help.

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.

Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

I am concerned about my 2.7-year-old son’s fussiness over food

As you can see from the daily progress report, my son is a very fussy eater. He has been like this now for a year. He won’t eat any meat that has been prepared in a sauce or that isn’t covered in breadcrumbs. He does however eat a load of fruit and enjoys bread. I’ve been told by an expert that he’s okay as he is. I’m not sure I want to follow that advice. At present he eats weetabix or muesli for breakfast. At lunch he has either chicken nuggets, sausages or pasta. He eats all types of fruit and enjoys sandwiches, usually made with cheese. He will also eat organic fruit bars and yoghurts. He drinks flavoured water topped up with bottled water at 12.30 and 5.30pm and drinks about 6oz of cows milk at 7.30am and 6.30pm.

Getting your son more interested in preparing food, both for his meals and the whole family, could help him try a wider variety of dishes. Take him shopping with you and talk to him about the vegetables and produce you are buying. Show him the different types of vegetables and fruit, enjoy smelling freshly made bread at the bread counter or bakery, tell him about the meals you are going to prepare for yourself and generally make him aware of all the things he could eat.

If you would like him to be more interested in vegetables, introduce them in a very small way alongside his familiar meals. Put three peas on his plate and comment on their lovely fresh green colour. Give him one slice of carrot or one very small broccoli floret and see if he will at least try it for taste even if he doesn’t eat it all. Try to share at least one meal a day with him and offer him the same things to eat as you are having. Let him help feed his baby sister, who may be a little more adventurous in her tastes than he is, and let him watch you prepare her food. Many small children can be very wary of new foods and prefer to stay with the few things they know and like. If you use mealtimes as a social occasion when the whole family is together, he should be happier to try a wider variety of food. Let him use his fingers by providing finger foods such as chicken goujons as a change from nuggets. If he doesn’t like meat in a sauce then cut him up some very small pieces without a sauce. Often small children prefer their food separated on a plate, with small quantities of each, but a wide variety, so they can see each item they are eating. Offer 2 goujons, 1 slice of carrot, 1 broccoli floret, 1/2 small potato and a few peas. It may not look much to you but there is plenty of colour and different textures for him to look at and he is able to see each individual item. If he enjoys pasta then offer him some grated cheese to put on the top and again a variety of colourful vegetables.

Let him help you cook. As he likes bread you could use a ready made pizza base and get him to help you add the topping. Use a tomato base and then show him how to make a face, grated cheese for the hair, a tomato slice for each eye, a strip of pepper for the mouth. Actively involving your child in making food is one of the easiest ways to encourage them to try new things. It may take a little more time and thought for you but will really encourage them to be more adventurous.

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.

Feeding FAQ: 24+ months – Food Fussiness

My 3 year old son is a very fussy eater. What can I do?

My son is an extremely fussy eater. He survives on a limited number of foods namely bread, fruit purees, dry shreddies, peanut butter and chocolate yoghurts. The problems with fussiness began at around 14 months and peaked at 18 months when his sister was born. From 18 months to now (he is currently 3); he has eaten the foods listed above and only those.

With hindsight, I can see some of the reasons why this problem arose and got worse with time. I have always been very anxious about what he eats which stems from a very bad experience with breastfeeding in his early weeks. I was so determined to breast-feed at all costs (and was completely brainwashed by midwives and NCT people) that I battled with it for 10 long and very painful weeks. It took my son nearly 4 weeks to regain his birth weight and 3 weeks to move his bowels, but I still persevered, believing I was doing the right thing. As a result, I became obsessed with not being able to ‘provide’ for my baby and felt extremely inadequate. I really wish now that I had given up earlier and moved him onto formula as I’m sure this experience has affected my relationship with him and feeding.

Consequently, when he did start refusing food I reacted in all the wrong ways, getting upset etc. I also offered him alternatives which set up a negative pattern. Slowly the balance of power shifted, and he gained complete control over this area of his life. Generally, I am a firm but fair Mum who believes in the value of routines and consistency. However, in this one area, I really lack confidence. Interestingly, I don’t have the same problems with his younger sister who has always been a good feeder (she breast fed successfully for 4 months until I weaned her) and eats a wide variety of foods now, at 18 months. I do worry though that she might pick up on his behaviour and start to only want what he eats.

One other point to mention is that he is very fastidious about mess and getting his hands dirty. I try to ignore this and encourage him to play with messy things (painting, sand etc) but it really bothers him. I think this is one of the reasons why he prefers mainly dry foods.

I’ve been to see a paediatrician about this problem and their assessment was to just carry on as we are doing i.e. eating together as a family, encouraging messy play etc and wait for him to decide when he wants to try new foods. However, I feel that this problem is so entrenched that it needs more than this. My biggest question is should I be a bit more assertive? There is no doubt in my mind that a large part of this problem is control i.e. his control over me in this context. A number of my friends, also with young children, think that I should be more ‘bloody minded’ and offer him the same food as the rest of the family or let him go hungry. I would be interested in your view on this as sometimes I feel I’m being too soft. Also, I feel like I need a proper strategy i.e. first do this, and then try that etc and if you can recommend anyone who could help me with this, I’d be very grateful.

At present my son eats a bowlful of dry shreddies for breakfast with 5ozs of orange juice. Lunch is 1 slice of wholemeal toast with peanut butter, 4 slices of cucumber and 2 fruit puree pots with 5ozs of Ribena. He has no snacks but is given 3ozs of juice or Ribena at 3pm. Dinner is 1-2 slices of crusty white bread [dry], 4 slices of cucumber, 2 chocolate pots and 5ozs of juice or Ribena. He sleeps from 7pm to 7am.

As your son’s eating problems have been going on for a long time it will take time to solve them. There are several ideas you could try in order to get him more interested in food generally and, in particular, to try new things.

Include him in all aspects of meals and their planning. This can begin with giving him a shopping list to help you when you are in the supermarket. This means shopping will take longer than normal but it will give you an opportunity to talk to him. Make him a short list and use pictures to illustrate what he needs to find. For example draw an orange, some heads of corn, potatoes, a tin of baked beans, a loaf of bread, tissues and a magazine. These are the things he must find on the shelves. It is a good idea to include one or two items which are not food related. Perhaps the magazine could be one he chooses for himself as a Thank You from you for helping with the shopping. Talk to him about where the various items of food come from, how they grow and how they are transported to this country. Emphasise the areas you know he is interested in, such as how they are transported, to gain his attention. You may end up talking about large trucks and ships but, in doing so, you will be helping him understand that food is an integral part of everyone’s daily life and that is the point you are trying to make.

Once you are at home again, involve your son in preparing food. At his age he will be able to do quite a few things in the kitchen. He can arrange slices of fruit on a plate for a snack. He can count out potatoes ready for you to peel and then put them into a saucepan. Also, there are many processes such as stirring, pouring and mixing with which he can help you. It may all take longer and be a bit messier than when you prepare meals on your own but such participation will encourage him to be more interested in food.

If you can, buy one or two of the excellent cookery books on the market specially written for children and look at them together with your son. Let him decide what he would like to make. Having a baking session is a good way to pass a rainy afternoon but most of these books include recipes for both savoury and sweet dishes which can be made into a meal. Help him prepare something he chooses but don’t push him to try it unless he wants to. He may prefer to offer it to Daddy or let his sister try it. Whilst preparing food he may have to get his hands a little dirty or messy. Wipe them down if it bothers him but often a child becomes quite involved in the process of making something and does not notice the mess so much.

Your son may like to make bread as this is one of the things he already eats. The process of kneading and pummelling the dough fascinates most children. As bread dough is fairly dry your son should not be too bothered by the mess. Whilst the dough is rising he can go off and play and then return to finish off. The dough can be used to make all kinds of shapes, not just loaves. Use currants for eyes and other details. You could include the end result as part of his tea.

Another way to encourage your son to be more interested in food is to make him his own food file. Make the cover colourful with cut out pictures of food and his name. This can be a scrap book or loose leafed file. Keep it in a special place in the kitchen. Let him look through magazines for pictures which he can paste on to the pages. These might be a field of corn growing or a picture of a pizza. If you have started to talk to him about food, where it comes from and how it is produced, you can find suitable pictures to include. When you have had a cookery session and he has made something, take a photo of him with the prepared dish and paste this in. Copy or print out the recipe and paste it alongside the photo.

Using “picture food” is another way to tempt a fussy eater. This is when food is presented as a picture on the plate. Again you will find plenty of ideas in books, such as “First Foods” by Miriam Stoppard. Show him the book and ask him to choose a dish which he can help you make. All the recipes in this book would also be suitable for his sister so, even if he does not want to try them himself, he will see his sister enjoying something he has helped to prepare.

Once you have got your son more interested in food preparation and in finding out where food comes from, he may be less reticent about trying new things. Make him a star chart to encourage him. You may decide to have three columns, one for each meal of the day or draw a column for each day of the week. Explain to your son that each time he tries one new thing he will receive a star or sticker. For example, if you have three meal columns and he tries one taste of a Satsuma segment at breakfast he receives a sticker in the breakfast column. If you feel that trying something new at each meal is too much for him have a chart marked with the days of the week and see if he can get one or two stickers each day. Use an incentive such as a new story book, if you like, once he has reached six stickers. The idea is that he tries a new food, but he does not have to eat it all. With a problem which has gone on for so long you may need to take things very slowly and not push him too much.

When your son has begun to take a greater interest in food and helps you make meals you could begin to be a little more assertive. It is said that no child will starve himself. But many children can hold out for a long time after being told they will have nothing to eat if they do not try to eat what the rest of the family is enjoying. You will need to be strong enough to carry through with your intentions as it will be hard to resist the temptation to give in to tears and tantrums, especially if you know your son is hungry. It would be best to seek professional advice from someone who deals with eating problems such as Dr Rundle, who has a link to this site, once you feel that you are ready to tackle the problem. However, by getting your son more interested in food first it may not take long for him to begin to eat the same food as the rest of the family.

It may also help you to look at a case study in Gina’s Contented Child’s Food Bible, page 11. This shows that sometimes, despite a limited diet, your child is taking in too much of one thing, such as carbohydrate, to the detriment of other nutrients. You would find this book a very useful guide to the amount of food your son needs to take from each food group in order to have a more balanced diet.

It may help to cut down your son’s juice intake a little. As he is drinking juices rather than plain water he may be filling himself up too much and therefore knocking the edge off his already small appetite. Offering him a drink at the end of the meal rather than with it can help prevent this.

Feeding FAQ: 18-24 months – Food Fussiness

My 19 months toddler is beginning to refuse food I know she likes

Grace is 19 months and we are having problems with food. On a Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday she attends nursery. She wakes at 7am, has a good breakfast and then a snack at 10am. Lunch is at 11.45am and can be meat, chicken or fish, potatoes, pasta and vegetables etc. There’s pudding of yoghurt, or banana custard plus a drink of water. She sleeps from 12.30 -1pm for about an hour in a bed with no dummy. Afternoon tea is at 3pm and a selection of sandwiches, quiche, fruit, cheese & biscuits, drink of milk. At 5pm she drinks some water and has a story. At home later on she has a proper tea at the table with us at 6.15 – 6.30pm. Bath and bedtime are no later than 7.30pm and she is always asleep within 5 minutes.
On Mondays and Fridays she is at home and gets up at the same time. Breakfast is Weetabix or porridge, plus a small plain pancake and fruit (either grapes or orange) drink of milk from cup. We attend tumble tots together on a Monday and Friday from 10am – 11am where she is learning to do forward roles and dancing etc. After this session she has a drink of water and a biscuit. Lunch is at 12pm and usually chicken, fish with pasta and vegetables in a tomato sauce or spaghetti bolognese and a piece of bread, or lamb casserole. She has a drink of water and, if she eats all her lunch is given a yoghurt or piece of fruit. She goes to bed at 12.45 -1pm for 1.5 -2hrs max – I wake her now after 2 hours (should I be waking her after 1.5 hours?). She has a snack at 3pm of cheese, biscuits and a drink of milk. Tea is at 6.15-30pm and she has whatever we are having or jacket potato with filling, sausage, mash and vegetables, meatballs, home-made ravioli (her favourite) etc. The weekends are very much the same.
The problem is that she is starting to refuse food at nursery and food I know she loves at home, so I have been throwing it away and giving her nothing else till next mealtime but this means she often stands and the fridge crying for half an hour or wakes early from lunch-time nap.
Nina

In order for your daughter to stop refusing food you know she likes at mealtimes I think you should begin to cut down on her snacks on home days. Instead of a biscuit with her drink, offer a small piece of fresh fruit or raw chopped vegetables. As Grace eats her breakfast quite late and her lunch at 12 midday, she is not really hungry for it having filled up on a biscuit mid-morning. I am sure if she ate breakfast by 8am and had a small snack mid-morning she would be ready for her lunch. If she still continues to refuse her food at lunch, cut back on her breakfast a little. Give her Weetabix or porridge and fruit, with milk to drink. You could replace the pancake with a small fruit yoghurt if you think she is still hungry.

Again in the afternoon, give her water or well-diluted juice, and offer a piece of fruit, ricecake or very plain biscuit.

I am aware from your day that Grace eats her tea quite late which is why you give her cheese and milk mid-afternoon. If you could bring her tea forward to 5/5.30pm I am sure she will manage with a smaller snack and then eat a good tea.

Obviously on nursery days you cannot limit her daytime snacks so offer her a smaller portion at teatime if she is refusing her food. Continue to offer the foods you know she likes but keep the portions small so as not to overwhelm her.

I agree that it is best not to offer alternatives at mealtimes, as toddlers can become fussy and faddy quite easily. By being offered a small but healthy snack twice a day, and perhaps smaller portions at mealtimes Grace will continue to eat a varied and healthy diet.

Feeding FAQ: 18-24 months – Food Fussiness

Daniel (20 months) hates getting his hands dirty and I think it’s making him a fussy eater

My son Daniel is almost 20 months and has become incredibly difficult at mealtimes over the last few months. I followed your Contented Feeding Guide from when I started weaning him and he used to be a great eater, eating anything in front of him. Over the last few months, he has got so fussy that the only thing he’ll eat is spaghetti bolognaise, oat porridge and yoghurt. I am now at the point where he is refusing even these and he refuses to try anything new – I am at my wits’ end. Occasionally he will attempt to feed himself his yoghurt with a spoon but gets very upset if his hands get dirty. He has never been interested in finger foods as his hands get dirty and he doesn’t like it. He also gets upset if he gets food on his clothes. I have tried to get him to play with playdough and get him to help spread butter and jam on toast etc to make it fun but he really hates being dirty. What am I meant to do? Are these two separate issues? I am not and have never been fazed about him making a mess – in fact, I would be so happy if he did pick up a handful of food and so don’t know where it is coming from. Please help! Many people have told me it’s a phase and he’ll grow out of it but I am starting to think it’s just getting worse and worse all the time.
Nicky

Daniel seems to have two separate issues here as you say he once was a very good eater. His food refusal is frustrating but continue to offer small portions of different foods rather than just the ones you know he will accept. If he eats very little, remove the food without comment and let the meal end. Offer him the food at his next snack time. Make sure he is not having too much juice or water between mealtimes which will affect his appetite. If you feel his milk consumption is high, then cut back on that. A child of Daniel’s age needs between 12 and 17ozs daily, with some of that coming from cheese, sauces, fromage frais etc.

Daniel needs to learn how to use a spoon himself, despite his dislike of being dirty. I suggest that you encourage him by handing him a spoon of his own at every meal. Try to feed him fairly dense things such as mashed potato which will stay on his spoon easily. If you have to, feed him at the same time to begin with but really encourage Daniel to do it himself. One way to do this is to share his mealtimes and sit down yourself with a plate of food to eat.

He is of an age when he needs to learn the social side of mealtimes. If you have friends with children of similar ages or possibly a little older, invite them round for tea so he sees how other children feed themselves without worrying. It may take a few visits for him to really be aware of what they are doing.

When he becomes upset at being dirty, leave a small sponge beside him so he can wipe his fingers. I think that in this case you really have to encourage him to be as independent as possible, so that he becomes more and more adept, but also used to the feel of food on his hands at times. Try to give him dryish finger food such as bread, breadsticks and rice cakes to begin with and then progress on to small pieces of cheese, vegetarian sausage and strips of omelette.

Try to use fun ways of presenting food to him, making faces with small pieces of vegetable on a small round of mashed potato, cutting pieces of bread spread with mashed tuna or egg into different shapes, adding broccoli florets as “trees” to a “house” cut from a simple omelette. Cookery books for young children will have more ideas. Look around for cheap, decorated picnic ware and children’s plastic plates and bowls with familiar storybook characters on them. Offering his food on these may act as an incentive for eating.

Finding ways to get Daniel more used to the sensation of different textures on his hands may need some thought. Keep trying with the play dough and spreading ideas. Again, you may have to initiate the playing while he watches to begin with.
Does Daniel enjoy playing in his bath with water? If he does, give him times of water play during the day. Cover him with a plastic all-over apron to ensure he is not distressed by wet clothes, then sit him on the floor with a washing up bowl half- full of water. Add a few bubbles and some small toys, especially things which pour such as toy cups or plastic stacking beakers. Tea strainers and funnels can also be used. Sit with him and show him how to pour water out over his hands, or over yours. Making a game out of it may help his dislikes. Add some food colour one day and see if he reacts to that. This may be an activity you have to offer several times before he becomes more willing to join in. Keep the sessions short to begin with. There are other things you find at home which you could give Daniel to play with which will give him plenty of tactile experience without getting “dirty”. A small bowl of dried rice or lentils again can be used for pouring over the hands and when the weather gets warmer you could introduce Daniel to a sandpit.

Some children do find it difficult to accept “dirty” hands, however unfazed you are with them but thinking of ways to make them more aware of different textures first can go a long way to them accepting the feeling of something on their hands.

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.

Feeding FAQ: 18-24 months – Food Fussiness

I have a little boy, who will turn two next month. Over the past few weeks I’ve been getting concerned that he’s not eating enough. He used to guzzle every meal, no matter what was offered, but now he just picks at some meals and I can’t seem to do anything to make him finish what’s on the plate.

Just as you can lead a horse to water but can’t make them drink, there is sometimes nothing you can do to get your toddler to eat his meal. But this is generally no cause for concern. Virtually every child naturally eats enough to satisfy their needs, but it is often not spread evenly between the three meals of each day. They may pick at breakfast and lunch, and then demolish several platefuls at the evening meal. Or they may eat like a sparrow for a full day but make up for it with super-sized portions the next day. To reassure yourself you could try keeping a 3-day food diary to examine your child’s meal pattern – you just can’t rely on looking at what they eat at one meal or even over one day. Note down all that is eaten over a three day period, then add up how many portions he has eaten from each food group: dairy; meat, fish, poultry and alternatives; fruit and vegetables; and carbohydrates or starchy foods. Divide this by three to get an average amount per day and then look at your son’s overall intake. You can check up on what makes up a portion and how many are recommended for each food group using The Contented Child’s Food Bible by Gina Ford. Another tip is to check that your son isn’t drinking more than the recommended amount of milk, or any more than small amounts of sweetened drinks (including fruit juices), as these can fill children up and take away their appetite for solid foods. If you would like extra reassurance you could also take your son to his Health Visitor or GP for a height and weight check.
You may wonder why your growing son seems to be eating less and yet remains quite healthy. Children naturally reduce their food intake relative to their body weight (in other words, they need less calories per kilogram of body weight) as they age, and this is most obvious during a child’s second year. This happens because a baby’s rate of growth is most rapid during their first year – they approximately triple their weight during this time. This slows down dramatically to about a 25% weight increase during their second year. I notice that my one-year-old often eats as much, and sometimes more than, my almost-three-year-old, but as they are both growing and developing healthily I know this is no cause for concern. I do wonder, though, how my younger son manages to fit quite so much into his little, but very round, tummy!