Being wary of trying new foods is a normal development stage in all children that typically peaks around 2 years of age and doesn’t necessarily constitute being ‘fussy’, as it is often labelled. Whilst it may not feel like it’s going to, it generally passes in time.
How can you manage this phase?
The first thing to remember is that children tend to meet their basic dietary needs and continue to grow, despite periods of food refusal and fussy eating. So don’t panic. Ignore the behaviour at mealtimes and start implementing two key strategies that we know work well.
1. Repeated exposure. Continue to offer new foods as it is very normal for new and unknown foods to be refused. It could take anywhere between 8 to 30 attempts before you see a willingness to try.
2. Modelling. Family members and friends can play an important role by eating and enjoying a variety of food at mealtimes, but they should be careful not to reject foods as this will put toddlers off trying new things.
If you continue to be worried, chat to your health visitor who can help you keep an eye on their progress and offer support and encouragement.
Mealtimes should be a fun and exciting time for you and your little one. With these simple steps, both you and baby will look forward to mealtimes.
- Same time, same place. Get into a routine with known times and locations for meals and snacks. Familiarity helps little ones feel relaxed and comfortable.
- You set the rules. Offer simple, healthy food and avoid asking tots what they want. Offer a little at first and more if finished, with lots of praise along the way.
- Try, try and try again. Refusal of new foods is entirely normal. Remove what isn’t eaten without comment but continue to offer the same food on consecutive days, with more accepted food at mealtimes. It can take as many as 15-25 tries before toddlers become accustomed to a new taste.
- No pressure. Studies show that applying pressure leads little ones to dislike a food even more. Instead, keep mealtimes happy and fun.
- Praise works brilliantly. Toddlers will work hard for a reward! Star charts and badges are great incentives but avoid rewarding good eating with sweet treats.
- Be a role model. The best way to get your tot to eat the foods you want them to is by eating it with them, so they have someone to copy. That way they’ll know that it’s safe and delicious to eat.
- Don’t restrict access to foods they like. It is only likely to reinforce their desirability.
- Involve your little one. Grow-your-own, pick-your-own and letting little ones help with food preparation are all great ways to do this. Handling foods helps towards acceptance, in the same way repeated offering at mealtimes does.
- Don’t stress about the mess. Allow self-feeding as having some freedom increases their sense of control, and encourages toddlers to eat more.
Whilst a completely normal stage of development, food refusal and fussy eating can be stressful. It's normal to feel concerned about their growth and development but unless the behaviour is pretty extreme and prolonged, children tend to do just fine. Take a moment to breathe and relax if you feel stressed and ask family and friends to help by modelling happy, healthy mealtimes. And remember to keep offering, even if they refuse every time, eventually they are likely to accept the food and may even grow to love it!