Dealing with fussy eaters | Living and Loving

Dealing with fussy eaters

Posted on July 22nd, 2009

Your former champion eater suddenly turns into a little bird, picking at his food or refusing to touch his once favourite spaghetti Bolognese. We explain exactly why your child’s steady appetite has changed all of a sudden.

Children go through various phases of development during their toddler-, preschool-, tween- and teen years. Food strikes or a drop in appetite are two of the hurdles you have to overcome with your child during his toddler years.

Registered dietician, Jeske Wellmann, says there are many reasons why toddlers don’t want to eat or don’t eat as much as they used to:

  • During the toddler years, your child is experiencing a normal slowdown in growth from his baby years, and with it comes the need for fewer calories and food.
  • Toddlers don’t like being rushed during mealtimes. These days, parents are always in a rush to get somewhere, whether it is to go to work, drop the other children off at school, or get to a parent-teacher meeting. This ‘fast lane’ lifestyle can have an affect on how much or how little your toddler eats if he is rushed during mealtimes.
  • Toddlers go through stages when they want soft foods or finger foods and sometimes they don’t know what they want. They can’t tell you what they want – you can merely offer them something else to eat and hope that they do.
  • During their toddler years, children are extremely interested in the world around them and explore a lot, which is why playing is much more important to them than eating.
  • Toddlers go through growth spurts. Some days they will eat a lot and other days they will eat very little or nothing at all.
  • The start of an illness, such as a cold or flu can also be a contributing factor to a food strike or a poor appetite
  • Changes in toddlers’ environments, such as starting a new school or moving house can also influence their eating patterns.
  • The introduction of new foods can lead to your toddler’s food strikes, as he may not like all of these new tastes. It is important to introduce new foods slowly to your child, and not too many new flavours at a time.
  • A toddler will push his food aside when Mom makes too a big a fuss about him finishing his plate of food.
  • Drinking a lot of milk and juice during the day influences a toddler’s appetite.
  • Sometimes children eat a big lunch at school, so they are not hungry at dinnertime.
  • Some toddlers can be very manipulative and will go on a ‘food strike’ to get attention.
  • Children sometimes eat a lot of sweets and snacks during the day, which is why they don’t want to eat proper food or can’t eat a full meal

Let your toddler feed himself
It can be rather painful to watch your toddler feed himself, the floor and his clothes, but it is important for your child to be in charge of the spoon. By allowing your toddler to feed himself, you are helping him to build his selffeeding skills, a healthy attitude towards mealtimes, eating and also to become independent.

Should I be worried if my child doesn’t eat enough?
Parents often think children can eat more than they do. “Most toddlers will eat when they are hungry and they will stop eating once they are full,”says Wellmann. Don’t worry too much if your child goes on a food strike or has a decreased appetite once in a while. If your child is still gaining weight during his appetite slumps, you don’t have to be concerned. You should, however, investigate the matter if your child’s food strike or poor appetite lasts three to four days and if he loses weight during this period.

Don’t force your child to eat
Don’t force your child to eat if she doesn’t  want to.  Your anxiety may make the problem worse.  If your child doesn’t want to eat a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, offer him another healthy option such as yogurt and fruit. If he doesn’t want to eat that either, just let him be, as he will eat when he is hungry.

Toddler portion guidelines
It’s very difficult to say exactly how much a toddler should eat daily, but there are a few guidelines you can keep in mind:

  • If your toddler is up to it he can have three main meals per day.
  • It is important that each of these meals contain fruit, veggies, starch and protein or some dairy and a little fat.
  • Toddlers need to have a snack between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner. Fruit or yogurt usually makes the best snacks. If your child doesn’t sit down and eat, but snacks all day long, the snacks should add up to at least three meals a day.

Handling a food strike

  • If your toddler doesn’t want to eat the food you give him, don’t take it personally, as he is not rejecting you.
  • A llow your child to decide how much he wants to eat and when to stop. Research has shown that children who are pressured into eating are more likely to develop food-related problems.
  • Provide your child with nutritious and nourishing options at mealtimes.
  • Dish up small portions for your toddler. He can always ask for seconds if he wants more.
  • Make your child’s mealtimes a pleasant, low-key experience. Avoid distractions such as the TV or siblings playing nearby, as this may distract your toddler from eating his food.
  • A sk your child what he wants to eat. If he wants custard and jelly, give it to him. But, if this lasts for more than a week, you should seek professional help.
  • If your child doesn’t want to eat at all, a meal replacement may help.
  • Investigate your child’s surroundings, as a new school or a stressful atmosphere at home can lead to food strikes.

Click here for delicious recipes your fussy eater won’t be able to resist.
You will know your toddler is full or has had enough to eat when he:

  • Says no to more food
  • Keeps his mouth shut when you offer him food
  • Turns his head away from the food being offered to him
  • Pushes away a spoon, plate or bowl of food
  • Holds food in his mouth and refuses to swallow it
  • Repeatedly spits out his food
  • Tries to leave the table or climb out of his high chair
  • Starts crying and screaming
  • Starts gagging or retching



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