Fussy Eaters: Making food fun for kids!

Weekly Menu Ideas
Creative Planning Tips
General Hints and Tips

As parents we all go through that difficult time when our toddler refuses to eat certain foods. This usually occurs from the age of 2 or 3 years, when they are able to differentiate types of foods, flavours and are also able to express their likes and dislikes.

The most common dislike is usually vegetables. The good news is that this does not last forever and there are ways to make this stage in your and your toddlers’ life easier and more enjoyable.

Why do toddlers go through this stage?

  • A toddler’s growth is not that of a baby’s first year of growth. A toddler’s growth slows down drastically after the first year and therefore they do not need to eat as much as they did in that first year.
  • Life can sometimes be just too busy to stop, sit down and eat. This is a time in their life of exploring and they do not want to miss out on anything!
  • This stage is an age appropriate milestone. A toddler is now able to express what they do and what they don’t like.
  • Monkey see, monkey do. You, as a parent and a role model set the example when it comes to eating a healthy variety of foods – your toddler will more than likely eat what you eat and may not eat what you do not eat.
  • The aroma and flavour of some vegetables and other foods such as egg and broccoli can be quite over powering. This is not to say that your child will never eat these foods – as they get older, their palate will develop and they will slowly explore new flavours and foods. 

Tips to help you with a young fussy eater

Click on the links at the top of the page for, a Weekly Menu Idea with Creative Planning Tips and other General Hints and Tips that go hand in hand to make your toddlers plate look colourful and exciting.
  • Use cookie cutters, arrange food to look like faces, or serve the food in something different and exciting such as an ice tray.
  • Let your toddler join in with preparing meals eg: let your toddler mix one egg and some milk together for some scrambled egg or have a ‘build your own pizza’ evening where they can sprinkle their own toppings on mini pizza bases. Make sure that the portion size is appropriate for their little hands and that the task is not too complicated for their developing brains.
  • Mess is fun and fun leads to learning! Try not to fuss too much over the mess that they create when they are helping you. This exposes them to a whole new concept that ‘food is fun’!
  • Another way to get a toddler involved is to let them help you with the grocery shop – this will also help educate them in identifying different foods and give them a sense of independence. When unpacking the groceries at home, let them help as well, giving them a cereal box or something lite, to carry inside.
  • Try to eat meals as a family with your toddler at least three to four times a week and set a good example by eating a healthy variety of foods.
  • Avoid forcing your child to finish the whole plate of food. If they are full and have eaten a bit of everything on the plate, then let it be. Forcing them to eat all of the food that was dished up could teach them that it is common to eat even when they are not hungry. This could then result in over-eating and obesity when they are older.
  •  If your toddler even refuses to begin eating what is on their plate, don’t replace that meal with something different. Simply cover it and offer it to them when they are hungry again.
  • You can encourage your toddler by saying that their favourite cartoon character also eats like this. Eg: “Did you know that Minnie Mouse likes to eat carrots and peas because it makes her healthy and strong”
  • Experiment with different flavours and encourage your toddler to taste everything at least once. Foods that have a distinct flavor such as cabbage should not be completely omitted, but instead try to introduce this again in a few weeks’ time.
  • Provide your toddler with an option to choose. This particularly helps when they are sick eg: “Would you like yoghurt or cheese / would you like toast or a cracker / would you like an apple or a banana”. Try to mix up the options as well to ensure that they choose something different for the next meal time.
  • Avoid bribery with the incentive of “if you finish all your veggies, then you can have pudding afterwards”.
  • Food preferences could change daily for a toddler. Don’t worry too much about your child not eating vegetables at dinner this evening. Rather look at what he/she eats over a week.
  • Being active and busy (physically and mentally) during the day will also assist with increasing a child’s appetite. Encourage you toddler to play outside and minimise electronic time.
  • Regulate meal times so that it fits in with your toddler’s daily routine.
  • Toddlers tend to be more easy going about food when they are eating with others, particularly with other children as the concept ‘monkey see, monkey do’ comes into play.
  •  Jazz up meal times especially on a rainy day when they’ve been cooped up inside, by having a picnic in the lounge or on the veranda. An exciting change will always get the enthusiasm going about eating a meal.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this website is provided by the SPAR Group Ltd for general information purposes only. Any reliance you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.