Toddlers grow at a slower rate than babies and have irregular appetites. As a result, they can be fussy about food preferences. Some older, preschoolaged children may also be ‘picky’ eaters. As indicated previously, it is the responsibility of parents and staff and carers to provide healthy food options and to encourage children to taste each different food. It is up to children to decide how much food they will eat. It is important that adults do not make a fuss about eating, as this places extra focus on it and can make the situation worse. Reassure parents that fussy eating can be normal toddler behaviour. For most children that are healthy, active and growing well, there is no need to worry. However, if a child excludes an entire food group or eats a very limited range of foods for an extended period of time, a referral to an Accredited Practising Dietitian may be helpful.
Working with a fussy eater:
- Make sure the child has not filled up on drinks or 'sometimes foods' before a meal or snack.
- Maintain a regular time routine for meals and snacks.
- Make mealtimes enjoyable and not stressful.
- Don’t bribe or punish a child who refuses to eat.
- Ensure that adults are modelling appropriate eating behaviour.
- Continue to offer foods that have been refused previously. Sometimes children need to be exposed to a new food a few times before it becomes familiar.
- Set a time limit of 20 to 30 minutes for a meal. After this time, remove any uneaten food and let the child leave the table. Do not offer alternative food or drinks until the next planned meal or snack.