How do I get my toddler interested in a variety of foods?

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Tammy Wolhuter (registered dietician) answers:

This is perfectly normal. By the age of two years, children have less interest in food and are also more interested in the world around them, and often typically develop a fussy eating habit. This fussy eating behaviour can last until around six years of age. Children also use this fussy streak as a means of asserting their newly discovered independence, as they realise that this is something they can control.

As a parent, you may become concerned about the adequacy of your child’s diet and irritated by this behaviour. However, you shouldn’t struggle to control this situation, as your efforts will be worthless. No child can be forced to eat. You must understand that this is a developmental phase and it is only temporary. You as a parent still control what food you offer to your child.

Continue to offer a variety of foods while still including the favourite, even if it is Marmite toast and cucumber sticks! Be sure to model eating a variety of foods, so if you want your child to eat a
healthy balanced meal, eat with him and let him see what you are eating. Also talk about the benefits of the food you are eating, for example, “This fi sh is brain food” or “These berries have vitamins that help to keep your immune system healthy so that you don’t get sick.” Ensure that you limit meal times to about 30 minutes and don’t fuss over the food not eaten as this may cause a further problem of food avoidance.

Parents should also be reminded that foods with little micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) content– such as chips, chocolates, biscuits and pastries – should be avoided as they’re typically preferred over a balanced meal of vegetables, wholegrain starch and meat. Too much fluid before mealtimes may also reduce appetite, so be sure to limit fl uids about an hour before a meal. Ensure that your child isn’t drinking excessive calories in the form of fruit juice as this may also reduce a child’s appetite. A child should not consume more than 120ml of pure fruit juice in a day; offer fresh fruit instead. Considered a multivitamin that may help with appetite. You can give your child a multivitamin if he has a nutrient deficiency. I suggest you visit a dietician to help you determine whether or not your child has a nutrient deficiency.

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