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Is every meal-time a battle with your toddler? Here, we explore why your toddler won't eat, and look at what you can do.

Every parent knows the scene. It's dinner time. Mummy sits opposite Betsy, the tot's fist screwed tightly around the fork, an uneaten plate of food in front of her. "Just one forkful of mashed potato." Mummy pleads.

Betsy shakes her head back and forth, "No!"

"But you like mashed potato." Mummy says.

"I don't!" the thirty-month old replies, "I hate it. I never want it; not never again."

And so it goes on. Finally, Mummy promises that, if Betsy will have one forkful, she can have ice-cream with sprinkles for dessert. Looking as though you asked her to eat polonium, Betsy purses her lips and pushes three millimetres of mashed potato between. Dropping her fork, she turns to Mummy with a smile: "Now, I get to have ice-cream." she says.

Is this scene familiar? Mealtimes with more bargaining and treaties than a UN conference? Threats and pleas, endless power struggles over one single pea?

If this sounds familiar, let's explore why toddlers suddenly become so picky, and how you can sidestep those power-struggles and mealtime-wars to help your child have a better relationship with food for years to come.

Why Is My Child Suddenly So Picky?

  1. Your child may be sick: If your child is only just being picky, it's possible s/he may feel under the weather. Few people want to eat, even their favourite foods, when they feel sick. If your child is teething, or otherwise poorly, you can expect sudden bouts of fussiness, including the rejection of usual favourites.
  2. Toddlers enjoy getting a reaction from their parents: Do you know what's a lot of fun when you're two years old and can't do much? Frustrating your parents by not-eating.
  3. Toddlers enjoy asserting their independence: A two-year-old has discovered the word "no", and they like it. Much like wanting to get a reaction from their parents, they want to show their parents that they're not a little baby who can be spoonfed blended carrots anymore.
  4. Toddlers are finicky: Toddlers are very fickle. Today their favourite programme is "Charlie and Lola", tomorrow they love "In the Night Garden". Today, they love mashed potato, tomorrow it's icky and slimy and they never liked it - not ever!
  5. Neophobia: This is a fear of new things - healthy from an evolutionary standpoint - that may be harmful or dangerous. We know spinach is a good, healthy vegetable. But it can taste a bit bitter and looks a bit funny and a toddler may not want to eat it for those reasons. Neophoboia may also present as not wanting to eat his biscuit if it's broken because it "doesn't look the same", or not wanting to use a different dish. While it can be frustrating, remember this same instinct prevents your toddler eating used chewing gum or rocks that s/he finds on the ground.
  6. Appearances can be deceiving: During the first year of life, children triple their body weight. After that time, growth slows, and appetite shrinks. Then it can appear that children aren't eating enough to live on. Presented with food on a regular basis, a child will not starve; even if it appears they're picking at their food. For reassurance, take your child to your doctor to have their height and weight measured to check your child is healthy.

If your child is being picky, for whatever reason, why not turn to the next page and see how you can encourage your toddler to eat.

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