If your toddler turns their nose up at most of the meals you serve them and will only stick to a few favourite foods, don’t panic too much.
This is normal for children aged between one and three, and there’s even a fancy term for refusing to try new foods – neophobia.
Humans developed this as we evolved as an instinctive way of protecting ourselves against unknown substances that could be poisonous or unsafe. So it is natural for them to be wary of unfamiliar foods, especially some vegetables that initially look unusual and taste bitter.
Toddlers may also respond with a big fat “no” when given something new, simply because they can. At this age, they are experimenting with exerting their independence and saying no is one way of doing that.
The trouble is, if they will only eat a few foods, you can end up worrying that they are missing out on vital nutrients they need for their development. This is a valid concern, but try not to let it stress you.
Feeding therapist from Small Talk Therapy in Auckland Mel Street also points out, "Kids this age have erratic appetites. Some days they will eat what seems like their own body weight in food and the next day hardly a scrap. Children tend not to need as much to eat as we think they do.”
But if you're worried, here are some ways of getting them to be more adventurous eaters:
1.Offer new foods many times
The more you put a new food in front of them, the more familiar it becomes. Their natural caution may ease once they’ve seen it five times – although with some foods, it may need to be dished up 10 times or more before they’ll eat it. Be persistent!
2.Choose your time
If your child is tired or grumpy, chances are a new food is not going to be received very well. They are more likely to want food they know and like. Wait until they are relaxed and happy before giving them something new for the first time. And don’t give them more than one new food at a time.
3.Let them be in charge of feeding themselves
Allowing them to pick up the food and try it themselves gives them some measure of control, rather than you trying to shovel it down their throat on a spoon.
4.Eat with your kids
Your child may be more likely to eat their broccoli or cauliflower if they see you tucking into it and enjoying it. Tell them how yummy you think it is.
5.Don’t give up
If they spit it out, that doesn’t mean they hate it and will never eat it. Try it again, and again, and again. They may eventually become accustomed to it and be happy to eat it.
6.Don’t stress too much
If their fussy eating winds you up, try not to show it. They may pick up on your stress and see mealtimes as upsetting and difficult experiences. This will make it even harder.
If you are worried your child is not getting enough nutrients, consider giving them a specially formulated toddler milk. These contain vitamins and minerals that can supplement a normal diet.
Try making it into a smoothie – not only do they get the nutrients they need from the toddler milk, but the fruit is also good for them and it helps to keep their fluid levels up.
Add two level scoops of a toddler milk to 90ml drinking water along with 1 tbsp stewed unsweetened apple and ¼ cup frozen berries. Mix in a blender.