Toddler Table Problems: Fussy Little Eater

I don’t know if it is the ‘terrible two’s’ but Little H has started refusing quite a lot of the food that I offer him. Food that he used to like eating and devour. Now mealtime (increasingly like other activities such as changing clothes) has become a showdown.  
For whatever reason, I visualised a stress-free eating experience with the whole family, including a happy toddler munching contently in his high-chair, sitting around the table.
Everyone is able to enjoy their food. Perhaps there was a time when your toddler was still curious about food and this might have been a more realistic scenario. And then, BOOM, it happens, your toddler suddenly does not seem to like anything that you offer. Just how did this happen!
If you find your toddler suddenly starts “being fussy” and will only eat very few specific foods (and sometimes very specific part of a food such as only egg whites), you are not alone. I did a lot of reading around and it seems that it is a phase that a lot of little people go through. They may or may not get over their reluctance to eat certain foods, depending on how we help them.
Believe it or not, there are things we can do to help them get past this stage and help them develop healthy eating habits for the long-term.
First step is to understand what is going on:
  • Sweetness indicate calories whereas sour and bitter tastes signal the presence of harmful toxins or bacteria. Now we can stop wondering next time your toddler tries to reach out for the pain au chocolat instead of the broccoli stir-fry that you lovingly made for him. It’s all down to survival! Of course if we hadn’t let H have a taste of the pain au chocolat then we probably wouldn’t have this problem in the first place. 
  • Food that helps your toddler feel satiated or fuller quickly will also be more preferable such as bananas or potatoes.
  • Your toddler may have learned to avoid a particular food after vomiting or feeling nauseous after consuming it. Or any bad experience that he or she may have had that he or she learned to associate with the food.
  • At a young age, almost all food is novel. It will take time and experience for the food to become familiar.

So what can you do:  


Giving children lots of opportunities to try different flavours is a great way to increase their exposure to a wide variety of tastes. There are studies that shows that early introduction of foods during weaning is correlated with greater acceptance in later childhood1. Make sure the exposure is repeated. Do NOT force the toddler if he/she does not want to eat what you have given them. I would just say ‘Oh you don’t want to eat right now, that’s fine’ and remove the toddler from the dining table. I try to maintain patience and follow this advice as it is crucial for me that it is HIS choice to eat.

Social facilitation or modelling.

Isn’t it the cutest when your baby/toddler tries to copy you? As parents, we should set ourselves as role models not just with what we eat but with our attitude to food and eating habits too. Now, this does not always work with little H, but I find that this works best when I engage in a social conversation with him without talking about the food that we’re eating or what we are doing.

No bribes!

Avoid using food as a reward. This will only make the ‘reward’ food more desirable and the ‘access’ food more of a chore.

Don’t give in or make alternative food for your little one.

That sounds harsh but the more you give in, the more you encourage “fussiness” and you might actually be depriving your child the opportunity to learn to eat different types of food. I offer H the same food that we eat although with less salt. If you currently don’t have a varied and healthy diet then perhaps thinking about your little one’s experience of food can help you switch to a healthier one.

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