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Management of Fussy Eating in Toddlers

by Sara C
fussy toddler eating

Meal times can become a battle of wills.

You force, beg or bribe your toddler to try some of the meal you have prepared but their mouth stays firmly shut or the protests start!

Stay calm… most healthy toddlers will eat when they are hungry.

The carer’s responsibility is to:


The toddler’s task is to:


Your toddler refuses to taste new food

  • Sometimes toddlers can be anxious about trying new food/colours.
  • Try to encourage them to have a taste or feel of the new food.
  • Next time you take them shopping show them the new food.
  • Get them to help in preparing the new food for a meal.
  • Grow the food in the garden or a pot in the kitchen.
  • Be creative.( Babytastes and Toddlertastes books for ideas).
  • Be patient. Remember it takes 20 food refusals of one food to be sure they really don’t like that food.

Tired and grumpy

  • Try to have meal times when your child is not too tired.
  • Have some understanding of the emotional and physical development of your toddler.
  • Be happy when your child eats some food. Don’t make them finish it all. They need to learn not to over-eat and to stop eating when they have had enough.

Distracted at the table

  • Eat as a family without external interruption, i.e., television off, computer off and no mobile phones at the table. Meal times can be fun!!
  • Chat among yourselves and don’t focus on the toddler if they start to play up.

Refuse to eat their meal

  • If your child refuses to eat their meal, CALMLY remove their plate. If they protest and say they are hungry, bring back their meal.
  • Food refusal can be attention-seeking. Your toddler refuses to eat so you offer an alternative food which is usually what they have been asking for. So they quickly learn that this behaviour gives them a reward. Toddlers are very good at regulating their appetites. They don’t go hungry so no need to panic.
  • Try not to bribe your toddler to finish their meal, i.e., offering dessert or chocolate. This is making the not-so-healthy food more important than the meal they are eating. Toddlers soon learn to manipulate their parents through eating habits to gain rewards.

Only eat a small amount of food

  • Serve smaller meals and let your toddler decide how much to eat. Remember, their appetites vary from day to day and meal to meal.
  • Don’t give too much milk or juice before a meal as this will suppress their appetite. Remember they only need 3 cups of milk a day or 3 serves of dairy which is equal to 1 cup of milk, 1 small tub of yoghurt and 30g of cheese. Water should be offered; not fruit juices, cordials or soft drinks.

Food fads

  • Toddlers develop likes and dislikes. These food fads come and go very quickly. Try to continue to offer a variety of foods and not cater to the food fad. Even if their preferred food is healthy, it means you are limiting the foods offered.
  • Set a good example; if you enjoy eating varied, healthy meals then so will your child.


  • They will be messy, especially when they want to feed themselves. MESS IS GOOD. Children need to explore food by touch, smell and taste BUT if they are seeking attention by throwing, spitting or dropping their food, CALMLY remove the food.

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