Most toddlers go through a phase of only eating a few particular foods. This is a normal part of their development. It’s partly because of something called food neophobia, which is a fear of new foods. Many toddlers experience this around the age of two. Rest assured, this is a phase, and it will pass.
Your toddler is most likely to eat what he knows. He needs time to learn that unfamiliar foods are safe and enjoyable to eat. He’ll gain confidence by watching you and others enjoying the foods he’s unsure about.
It’ll also help if you make sure your toddler gets plenty of exercise. Rushing around and playing active games will help him develop a hearty appetite for his meals.
Try these tips for making mealtimes run smoothly:
Eat as a family when you can
Eat with your toddler as often as possible. This may be hard if you and your partner both work full-time, but try to make time when you can.
At shared mealtimes, eat the same foods as your toddler. Toddlers learn to eat new foods by watching and copying their parents and other children. Your little one may be even more inclined to join in if you’re all helping yourselves from big dishes in the middle of the table. Don’t add any salt or sugar to your toddler’s portion, though.
Tell your toddler how much you’re enjoying the food you’re eating. You’re his role model, so if you’re enthusiastic your toddler may be more willing to try them. You can always put on a brave face if you’re not really a fan of brussels sprouts or broccoli!
Let your toddler know how happy you are with him when he eats well. He’ll enjoy the praise and it may encourage him to continue eating well. If you only give him attention when he’s not eating, he may start to refuse food just to get a reaction.
If he doesn’t finish his meal within about half an hour, take the uneaten food away without commenting. He is unlikely to suddenly finish it. Just accept that he’s had enough and move on.
Make mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable
Arrange for your toddler to eat with other children as often as possible. Invite one of your toddler’s nursery or preschool friends over for tea. Your toddler may eat better when he sees others his own age happily tucking in.
Eat away from distractions such as the television, pets, games and toys. These will make it more difficult for your toddler to concentrate on eating.
Make mealtimes a happy occasion by chatting about lots of different things. Try to talk at a level that your toddler can understand so he can join in.
Offering finger foods to your toddler allows him to touch and play with his food if he wants to. Even if he makes a mess, he’s still learning about the textures and feelings of different foods. Your toddler will also enjoy having the control of feeding himself. It’s a very grown-up responsibility for him!
Make mealtimes consistent
Work out a daily feeding routine that fits around your toddler’s daytime sleep pattern. This should include three meals and two or three nutritious snacks, spaced throughout the day. Toddlers thrive on routine and enjoy knowing what to expect.
If your toddler gets too tired, he may become fed up and not want to eat. Give your toddler a small snack or drink before naps and save his proper meals for afterwards.
Ask everyone in the family, and anyone else who feeds your toddler, such as nursery staff or your childminder, to follow your approach and routine.
Keep your toddler interested
At lunch and dinner, offer your toddler a savoury course followed by a nutritious dessert, such as fruit. After one course, he may be bored with one taste and want to try something new.
Two courses also offer your toddler two chances to take in the calories and nutrients he needs. Plus, he’ll experience a wider variety of foods at each meal.
However, never bribe your toddler to eat the savoury course with the promise of the sweet one. This will only make him want the savoury foods less.
Give small portions. Toddlers can be overwhelmed by big platefuls and lose their appetite. If your toddler finishes his small portion, praise him and offer him more.
For a little extra variety, you could have a picnic outside when the weather’s nice. It will be fun for you both, and there’ll be less mess to clear up at the end! If you’re taking your toddler to a cafe or restaurant, take a nutritious snack that you know he likes, just in case he doesn’t want to eat anything on offer.
Involve your toddler
Once your toddler’s old enough, include him in food shopping by letting him help you find things in the supermarket. He can also give you a hand with setting the table before meals. Little activities like this will help to promote positive eating habits.
Your toddler may be able to help with simple cooking and food preparation. Letting him investigate new foods away from the dinner table may mean he’s more likely to try them when they end up on his plate.