10 ways to entice a fussy toddler to eat

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Just as every adult palate is different, and we all have our favourite foods, so too does the mighty toddler.

But slaving over a meal that never touches your wee ones lips due to refusal can be demoralising, and after continued refusal it becomes frustrating and infuriating.

Without researching too deeply, it’s fairly safe to say that no child ever died from existing on only yoghurt, cucumber with the skin peeled off and Vegemite sandwiches for a year, but there is probably research to suggest that parents have nearly gone insane with worry.


Good food habits need to start early, and remember that your child only eats what you offer them.

Offer them plenty of fresh, nutritious options to create lifelong habits.

If mealtimes are a struggle at your house try some of these tactics to try and outwit your fussy child.

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Keep it fun and colourful

By adding an array of different colours to the plate you can entice their creativity. Vibrant plates with a few options give more chances of something being eaten. If a food gets rejected try again in a few weeks.

Get the kids involved

If you don’t feel that your toddler is quite up to helping you cook yet, what about handing them food as you take it from the fridge and ask them to put it on the counter for you, or hand them food to carry at the supermarket?

By involving them in the process you can create an interest in food.

Eat with your children

This can be tricky with children’s meal time being earlier than you like to eat, but you will often notice that if you all sit down together, television off, eating the same food, mealtimes will go much smoother.

Offer a variety of different foods

Even if it seems that your little one is only interested in peeled apple quarters and peanut butter sandwiches for weeks on end, keep offering different things. You may need to offer the same thing up to 15 times before you have any luck.

Don’t be afraid of flavour

Adults love bursting flavour and so do kids. Often you’ll see children’s menu options are fried, and/or bland. Your children enjoy eating spices, will love herbs, and if you’re game even a little chili. You’ll be surprised at what they’ll try, and like.

Use positive words

When you talk about food use enthusiastic words. Saying things like ‘this is yummy and it will make your body feel great!’, or ‘this will give you lots of energy for running’ is a great way to build positive food associations.

Mealtime routines

As with bedtime, toddlers thrive on a routine. Children need three meals and two snacks per day, so ensuring that they are not snacking too close to meals is imperative. Keep meals around the same time, and unless out, sit at a table with the television off.

Keep them interested

Two course meals are a great way to keep toddlers interested; a savoury course followed by a sweet course. Your sweet course need not be chocolate ice cream; fruit and low-sugar yoghurt, or even bread and butter pudding, are great options for ensuring enough calories are consumed if you’re struggling with savoury.

To bribe or not to bribe?

So. Very. Tempting. Short-term pay offs are exactly that, but long term you can create issues surrounding food. Healthy eating is reward enough. Remember if you start bribing to eat, when does it stop?

Stay relaxed and calm

The food struggle can become a massive power play. Tempers can flare, food can fly, and tears can prevail – yours and theirs. Just stay calm and know that this phase will soon pass.