Registered dietician, Laura Barry, responds:
A toddler refusing your carefully planned and prepared meals can indeed be very trying, but it is quite normal. At this stage in their development they are learning to be more independent and experiment with how to express this. There are only so many things that they can control, and having a say in, and influence on, their food preferences are two of these.
Another factor which contributes is food neophobia. Your toddler is facing countless new experiences everyday. Neophobia is the fear of anything new and this can manifest as a fear of new tastes or textures. Some children may display distaste for a new vegetable but will try with a little persuasion, others may adamantly refuse.
It may also be helpful to be conscious of bad experiences that an infant or child may have experienced at the time of having a particular food. This can form a strong negative association that may put the child off. It is important not to panic and know that more likely than not this will change.
The best way to manage it is to model the healthy eating habits and mealtimes you would like your child to have. They will never want to eat fruit and vegetables, sitting at a table, if they don’t see you doing this. Offer regular balanced meals with healthy snacks in between. Other tips include:
- BE REALISTIC IN YOUR EXPECTATIONS Decide when and what is offered, but allow your toddler a little independence to decide how much may be enough. Be conscious of normal portion sizes and start small. Variety is great but if children are only eating a select few fruit and vegetables that is okay.
- PRESENT IT IN A DIFFERENT WAY If your child doesn’t like food all mixed together in a casserole, try a giving him small piece of meat or chicken with starch and veggies on the side.
- HAVE A BREAK If you have presented strawberries everyday for the last two weeks and your toddler shows no interest in trying – stop. Introduce another food.
- USE YOUR IMAGINATION with food shapes and colours.
- REWARD! Children need to be praised for their achievements. Try not to focus on when it does not go well, rather use a star chart for good mealtimes and reward with a non-food related item, like a very small toy.