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Fussy eating in early years

Fussy eating is a phase that most toddlers go through, usually in their second year, where they refuse to eat certain foods or eat only specific (or a selection) foods. Most of them grow out of it and accept a wider range of food in time. There is a variety of reasons of why the children loss suddenly appetite. The helpful thought is what the toddler eats over the whole week.

Some tips on encouraging the child to begin eating a wider variety of foods:

  • Offer meals and healthy snacks at regular times and have the same meal with the child.

  • Have meals as a family or with friends so to make mealtimes enjoyable.

  • Avoid distractions (e.g. TV) to ensure a relaxing eating environment during mealtimes.

  • Limit mealtimes to 20-30 minutes.

  • Offer finger foods so the child feels to be in control. Don’t pressure or punish them to eat new foods if they do not want to.

  • Don’t put too much food on to the child’s plate, offer toddler sized portions according to 5-5-3-2. The offered foods should be prepared with little or no added salt or sugar. Include foods that are high in healthy fats (e.g. salmon, avocado).

  • Avoid snack or drink (e.g. milk or juice) consumption before mealtimes and using them as a reward.

  • Instead praise good mealtimes. Gradually introduce new foods.

  • Present no more than 5 new foods in a week. It may take over twelve tastes for the child to like a new food.

  • Re-introduce the foods the child didn't like before, as their taste change.

  • Allow the child to decide when they have had enough to eat and consider their eating preferences (e.g. keep foods in separate plates).

  • Involve the child in food shopping, preparation and setting the table.

  • If the child is slow eater, be patient.

  • Don’t put a new food on the child’s plate unless they agree to it.

  • Allow the child to try new foods from their parents’ plates. It is more likely to accept it. If food is not eaten, wait for the next meal or snack to offer a new food.

  • Take away uneaten food without commenting on it.

  • Present meals and snacks in fun and attractive and appealing ways (e.g. using colourful foods and plates, creating smiley faces, fruit/ vegetable kebabs, etc.).

  • Limit choice, don’t ask the child what they want to eat. Instead offer them 2-3 options to choose from.

  • Vary the way of food preparation and presentation of new foods to identify their preferences, offering a variety of both texture and taste.

The process to tackle the child’s fussy eating phase should be persistent. If there are concerns about the child’s health (e.g. no eating), you should contact your GP. Eating times should be kept positive at all times. As long as the child eats some food from the four main food groups (fruits/vegetables, starchy carbohydrates, protein, dairy/alternatives), there is no need to worry.

Maria Papagiannaki was born and grow up in Crete. She has a bachelor (BSc) in Human Nutrition from the University of Greenwich and a master (MSc) in International Public Health Nutrition from University of Westminster. At the moment she is working as a child weight management nutritionist in London. In the past she has worked in higher education (colleges and universities) in both UK and Greece.

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