Tackling The ‘Fussy Eater’ Challenge!

You’ve worked so hard to teach your toddler good food habits but then the ‘terrible twos’ hit, and all eating just shuts down! Toddlebox nutrition and early feeding expert Sarah Keogh explains what’s going on – and how to deal with the frustration!



Most toddlers will go through a phase of fussy eating. And yes, it is very frustrating, but it is completely normal. Common causes include:

Got a fussy eater?
The culprit could be:

  1. Independence
  2. Attention-seeking
  3. Too much milk
  4. Too many snacks
  5. Food neophobia


  1. New-found Independence

The problem. Some toddlers are just trying to be independent. One way of showing independence is by choosing what to eat and what not to eat. Lots of toddlers simply stop eating foods they used to love (there’s a good reason they’re called the terrible twos!).

The solution. Many parents panic and think their child will go hungry, but they’ll be fine.  You’ll find they will just eat better at their next meal or in a few days. The trick here is to just keep at it. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t force feed them. Just keep offering your normal, healthy meals. Don’t offer them an alternative meal if they refuse to eat what you give them. The biggest mistake is to start giving them all of their favourite foods just to get them to eat. This just teaches toddlers that, with enough fuss, they can get whatever they want. Once a toddler knows this they will refuse anything they don’t love.


  1. Looking for Attention

The problem. Your toddler looks for ways to get your attention. Not eating works better than anything. Once they learn that the only way to get your full attention is to refuse meals, then that is what they will do! For many fussy toddlers with busy parents, attention can be all they want.

The solution. Try to spend 15 or 20 minutes giving them full, positive attention before a meal. You could read them a story, play a game or even just talk to each other.


  1. Too Much Milk

The problem. This is a common cause of fussy eating in toddlers. Although milk is a great, nutritious food, too much of it fills their little tummies. Another problem with drinking too much milk is that it does not give toddlers all of the nutrition they need. Regular cows’ milk is very low in iron, so toddlers need to eat proper meals to get a full range of nutrients.

The solution. Toddlers need about two beakers of milk per day (150-200mls/ 5-7oz) along with some yoghurt or cheese for calcium. After that, the main drink for toddlers should be water. That way they have room for their proper meals.


  1. Too many snacks

The problem. Toddler tummies are very small and fill up easily. Many toddlers have too many snacks in between meals, which means they are not hungry when it comes to dinner. Even healthy snacks like fruit can fill toddlers up and leave you with a fight on your hands at meal times.

The solution. Limit snacks to two or three per day at most. Make sure your toddler has no snacks within two hours of a meal so that they have a good appetite.  Also keep on eye on drinks close to a meal. Unless it is a really hot day, it’s best not to give a toddler a drink (even water) within 30 minutes to an hour of a meal.


  1. Food Neophobia

The problem. Neopohobia is a fear of new things.  When it comes to food, this means a fear of new or unfamiliar foods.  Until the age of 18 months, babies and toddlers are really open to trying new foods and textures.  However, around 18 months, toddlers start to be suspicious of new foods and are more likely to refuse them.

The solution. The trick here is to keep offering the food. It is all about teaching babies and toddlers about new flavours and textures. Don’t force them to eat a huge amount of any new food. If you can get them to take even one small taste, that is a good start. Remember, it takes 10-16 tries before a baby or toddler will like a new food so the more patient you are, the more successful you will be. And remember to let your toddler see you eating the food yourself; they are more likely to try it if it is normal for everyone at home to eat it.


If your toddler is really off their food, do contact your GP for a check up. Check out the Guide to Healthy Eating Habits  for tips on encouraging healthy eating behaviour.

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