Sunday 18 March 2018

How to handle fussy little eaters

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, Director of Human Health and Nutrition at Safefood gives her top tips on healthy eating for toddlers

Happy baby eating fruit. Photo by Thinkstock
Happy baby eating fruit. Photo by Thinkstock
Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan

Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan

Toddlers need lots of foods full of goodness because they're growing so quickly and as parents will know, they are very active as well!

Ideally, toddlers should have a balanced diet so try to avoid sticking to a limited range of the 'old reliables' that they like; the key to remember is variety and colour.

Fruit and vegetables – your five-a-day – offer plenty of colour.

Give them a variety of meats and fish, as well as different varieties of carbohydrates, such as potatoes, wholegrain pasta and brown rice.

Because children learn so much from their parents, it's important to eat with children whenever possible – your toddler will copy your example. It makes mealtimes sociable and you don't have to stand over them waiting on them to finish.

And if you're trying out new foods, try them a number of times so your child gets used to a varied diet – don't give up after the first few tries!

As toddlers, they will have small stomachs and might not manage much food in one sitting, so give them toddler-size portions and smaller plates.

I get asked a lot about suitable drinks for toddlers and water really is the choice thirst quencher.

Milk is a suitable drink at mealtimes while one small, 100ml glass of unsweetened juice daily is also a healthy choice.

When it comes to sweets or savoury snacks, the advice is simple; treat them as treats, not too much of them (that toddler size thing again!) and not everyday.

And just as important as what toddlers eat is how they play and rest. Children should get 60 minutes of active play every day and plenty of sleep too.

As parents, it can be difficult to balance work and home life with the active, energetic demands of a toddler.

Too often we can lose sight of the fundamentals like preparing and cooking food and eating together as a family.

But by setting these habits early in life, you can start as you mean to continue, and set your toddler up with healthy habits that will last them a lifetime.

Fussy eating can be very frustrating for parents but in most cases is nothing to worry about. Healthy toddlers often refuse food because they are looking for attention, trying to show you they're independent or sometimes, just because they want to feed themselves, which in itself is great!

Sometimes, a child will reject a food the first few times you offer it – it will look and taste new to them and will feel differently in their mouth. But they will come around to it eventually with lots of encouragement and enthusiasm.

Try a very small portion of it first with their main meal – let them look at it, smell it, even play with it. Don't make a fuss and remember, your child may need to try a food eight to 10 times before they like it, so try not to give up easily!

Sometimes a child will refuse food because they're filling up on sugary snacks or drinks between meal times. If you think this could be the case, avoid giving drinks for an hour before meals, and only offer a drink at the end of their meal.

Children are also easily distracted, especially by a television or other screen, so make sure they're switched off at mealtimes.

Of course, if your child refuses point blank to take something, it could just be that they don't like it. Children, like the rest of us, have their own food preferences.

To get beyond this, offer your child another food from the same food group.

For example, if your child refuses meat, offer them baked beans instead or boiled, poached or scrambled eggs. You could also try minced meat with a sauce or gravy. Or a casserole with things like lentils and chickpeas instead of meat.

If your child refuses vegetables, offer them vegetable sticks to munch on as snacks. Lots of children prefer fruit, so give an extra piece of fruit instead. You can also blend up vegetables, and try to disguise them in meals and soups, like mashing boiled cauliflower into potatoes.

Call it something interesting. Young children can be persuaded to try almost anything if it has a fun name – princess pie, fisherman's lunch, etc.

For more information including practical How-To videos on topics like fussy eating, visit

Irish Independent

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