Fussy eating is a phase common to toddlerhood. The following tips, coupled with parental patience, are designed to make mealtimes a positive experience —as opposed to a food fight.
Some days your toddler seems to live on fresh air alone but try not to worry – healthy toddlers have good appetite regulation and usually eat what they need to.
Drinking too much milk is a common reason for fussy eating, as milk can fill up toddler tummies and ruin appetites for other important foods. Offer milk after a meal, and limit to two cups per day (around 500 ml) so your toddler is hungry at mealtimes.
Often toddlers reject savoury foods, which are high in iron and other essential nutrients. Iron is essential for healthy growth and development and if your toddler is low in iron they become tired, prone to infections and may even have difficulty learning. Make sure you offer your toddler a good variety of foods rich in iron every day, including meat, chicken, fish, legumes (e.g. baked beans) and green leafy vegetables.
If your toddler is a particularly fussy eater, an iron-enriched toddler milk drink (instead of cow’s milk) can be useful. Toddler milk drinks are based on cow’s milk but contain additional nutrients, including iron. One cup of a toddler milk drink can provide a good amount of your toddler’s daily iron requirements, providing a great boost in addition to a balanced diet.
Toddlers, like babies, may continue to reject new foods when they are first offered, but keep offering small portions of a wide variety of food, and encourage repeated tastings. Be a good role model too. Your toddler will benefit from seeing you eat a range of healthy food and will similarly be influenced if they hear you say “Brussels sprouts are gross”.
If a meal is refused, let your child sit quietly at the table for a few minutes before getting down. Don’t offer alternatives to replace the uneaten food or your child will come to expect this.
Let your child explore food by touching it, and expect some mess! Likewise, let your child feed themselves, offering help if needed. Mealtimes are all about learning. Eat together as a family whenever possible – this will make mealtimes more enjoyable, as well as providing opportunity to lead by example.
The good stuff
While New Zealand nutrition guidelines recommend that adults eat five or more servings of fruit and vegetables a day, because toddlers are smaller, the guidelines suggest around four servings (roughly a handful) – and it all counts: fresh, frozen, and canned (without sugar).
Here are a few creative ideas for getting more fruit and vegies into your toddler's diet.
● Freeze it – freeze berries or a banana and blend with some milk to make a mini smoothie.
● Adapt it – add fruit and vegies into your existing recipes. Grated or mashed fruit works well in pikelets and chopped vegies are tasty in an omelette.
● Dip it – serve a tasty spread or dip with fruit or vegetable sticks, instead of crackers.
● Mix it – grated pumpkin or pureed cauliflower work well as thickeners for soups or casseroles. They also add a little sweetness that your toddler is sure to appreciate.
● Add to it – add extras to your toddler’s ready-made meals. A little grated carrot or some mashed vegies can give extra flavour and texture.
Tips adapted from information supplied by Heinz Wattie's nutritionists