Toddlers (children aged 1-3 years old) are growing and developing rapidly. At this stage they often want to become more independent. This independence can affect feeding and meal times and is a very normal part of development but can also be very frustrating for parents. If you have a toddler or your little one’s about to hit the toddler stage, these tips for feeding fussy toddlers will, no doubt, make life a bit easier.
Concept: Division Of Responsibility
It’s the parent’s role to decide when a meal or snack is offered, where it will be offered and what foods are served. It’s the child’s role to decide which of these foods they eat, if any. This is called the division of responsibility. You should never force your child to eat foods. This makes meal times unpleasant (for everyone) and they may start to refuse to come to meal times all together.
How Much Milk, Formula or Breast Feeding Is Your Toddler Having?
The first question we need to look at with fussy toddlers is how much milk are they drinking each day? If a toddler is drinking large amounts of milk or frequently breast feeding they may become a fussy feeder. They’re never hungry so why should they eat solids? It’s a difficult one as often toddlers are given more milk due to parental fears of poor eating. It’s important to reduce the milk intake to allow your toddler to develop a hunger for solids. Limit milk or formula intake to a maximum of 450ml/day.
Messy Food Play
It’s important that toddlers be allowed to play with their food and get messy. Your toddler may frequently throw foods on the floor which is frustrating for parents but this is an important part of their development – it helps them learn about foods and what they’ll feel like in their mouth.
For many parents, dealing with messy food play can be very difficult but it’s essential for your toddler to develop feeding skills. They need to be able to tolerate food on their hands and face. It’s important not to constantly wipe your child’s face and hands during meals. This action also makes meal times unpleasant for them if their face and hands are constantly being wiped.
Eat together as a family as much as possible. This will help your toddler develop their feeding skills. They learn from watching others eat and also learn the social aspects of meal times. Attending childcare can also be a good way for your child to learn about eating from other people.
Be Seated When Eating
Your toddler should be seated for all meals and snacks, not walking or running around the house. They can sit in a highchair, on a booster seat at the dining table or at a small table and chairs.
Limit Meal Times
Limit the time it takes for your child to eat. They’re not going to enjoy mealtimes if they know they’ll be made to sit to eat for long periods of time. A meal should be no longer than 30 minutes and should be finished earlier if your child’s unsettled.
Avoid Distractions At Meal And Snack Times
Avoid using distractions at mealtimes such as television, devices or toys. Children should concentrate on their food – this is how they learn about it and about eating properly. The only things used as distractions during meals are foods, utensils and conversation.
Structure Meal Times To Develop Healthy Habits
If your child doesn’t finish all of their meal, pack it away after 30 minutes without fuss. If they come to you soon after the meal or snack saying they’re hungry, tell them, “you’re hungry because you didn’t eat your food”. Tell them “It’s not time for food right now and they need to wait until their next meal or snack time”. Children need to learn the consequences of not eating ie. they’ll be hungry! This will teach them they need to eat their food at a meal or snack time so that they’re not hungry in between.
Toddlers eat every couple of hours. It’s never that long between a meal or snack. Grazing doesn’t help your toddler eat more. Toddlers are better with routine. Offer 3 meals each day with 2 snacks in between. There should be breaks in between the meals and snacks so your child can learn the patterns of hunger and fullness. Children’s appetites fluctuate. They don’t always eat the same amounts every day. It’s ok if they miss a meal or snack. They’ll likely make up for it at another time.
Don’t Offer Alternative Foods
If your toddler doesn’t eat the foods provided, don’t offer them alternatives. Children learn very quickly. If they don’t eat their meal and you offer them a preferred food instead, they learn not to eat their food as they know they’ll get what they want.
Re-offer New Foods
A toddler may look like they don’t like a new food but usually it’s just because it’s a different taste or texture to what they’ve tried before. Re-offer new foods multiple times. Don’t give up! It can take 20-30 presentations of a new food before some children accept them.
Offer a Range of Foods
Offer a range of foods at each meal time including some preferred foods and some new or non-preferred foods. Ensure they cover each of the food groups. There needs to be a preferred food so your toddler will be happy to come to the table.
Encourage them to touch new foods, smell them, touch them to their lips and kiss or lick them. Never force your child to eat these foods. They need to feel safe that they can explore new foods without fear of being made to eat them. It’s important to offer a range of different textures. Mix it up and offer foods that your toddler can manage easily as well as some foods to help them develop their biting and chewing skills.
Encourage your toddler to feed themselves with support from you if they’ll allow it. Encourage feeding with utensils by preloading multiple spoons or stabbing food with multiple forks and allowing your child to bring them to their own mouth. There’s also no harm in them feeding themselves with their fingers.
If your toddler is a fussy eater, they may benefit from a Multivitamin supplement while you work on building their acceptance of a greater variety of foods. Recommended supplements include Pentavite Multivitamin (liquid or chewable), Brauer Baby and Kids Multivitamin (liquid) and Centrum for Kids (chewable). A visit to SS Diets will also help assess children for any nutrient deficiencies.
As hard as it may be, it’s important to try to make meal times as stress-free as possible. The more stressed your child feels at meal times, the less they’ll eat and the more fussy they’ll become. This then stresses out the parents and sets up a negative cycle. If you need help implementing these tips for feeding fussy toddlers or assessing your toddler’s nutritional status, the team at SS Diets are here for you.
If you’d like further help in improving your child’s diet or even your own, get in contact with the team at SS Diets. Click to book or send an enquiry.