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How to Get Fussy Toddlers to Eat More

by on 13/03/2013 4608

With their fragile bodies and delicate stomachs, it’s easy for any first-time parent to feel a pang of nervousness every time their toddler refuses a meal. During the first year of a baby’s life, he or she will manage to triple their birth weight and add extra 10-inches of height to their frames (on average). However, the growth spurt and appetite dramatically wanes after their first birthday.


Statistically, most children are bound to undergo a period of not eating, or perhaps only eating certain types of food. This odd habit seems to peak around the tender ages of three or four, but can appear as early in 15 month old babies. While the problem does tend to go away on its own (often enough when the child does eventually get hungry), feeding your child a nutritious, well-balanced diet can be an exasperating challenge during this period of time.


Problem: Food Fatigue

Food fatigue is a term used when a child forcefully rejects food that he or she usually likes to eat. According to paediatrician Jennifer Shu, MD and co-author of Food Fights, food fatigue occurs simply because your child is bored of eating the same thing every day, much like how adults would also get tired of the same foods. The difference is that while adults are much more verbal about their diet choices, little toddlers have yet to develop the language skills needed to request for a change. Growing pains such as teething or recent illness could also be the cause of food fatigue as well. 


If your child is suffering from food fatigue, the very first thing every parent must refrain from doing is to over-react. Your child is not rejecting the food because he or she is sick; nor are they rejecting the food with the hidden purpose of deliberately making you angry. It is important that your child does not see you over dramatize the situation, or they might use food to emotionally blackmail you into spending more time with them in the future.


A simple cure for food fatigue is to serve a wider variety of healthy foods at each meal, so your toddler has more options to choose from.


Problem: Picky Eater

Does your toddler insist on eating only certain types of food?


Toddlers are naturally wary against unfamiliar foods, especially vegetables (also medically categorized as food neophobia).  While no paediatrician has been able to provide a true-and-teasted hypothesis on the reasons behind picky eating, most agree that the busy life of a toddler could be the root cause. After all, toddlers spend the majority of their waking hour learning how to walk and talk, which leaves them exhausted by the end of the day. That exhaustion is suspected to lead to impatience and preference for food that they are familiar with.


The easiest solution to this problem would be to serve new types of food earlier on in the day, when your toddler is much more energetic and less moody. The food should also be served in smaller portions (one tablespoon) as well, so there is no pressure on the child to eat the food. During the offering, parents should maintain a cheery attitude, but should avoid bargaining or pleading with the toddler to eat. 


You could also invite your toddler to “help out” in the kitchen while you prepare their meal. For example, older toddlers could help to toss the salad together or tear lettuce. Parents are the role models of children, so you must also ensure that your toddler watches you eat the same foods as they do. If your toddler has to eat an eggplant, then you need to eat an eggplant, too. 


Raising a picky eater may not seem like a big deal, but if left unguarded, it could become a long term habit even when your child has reached adulthood. To prevent your child from gorging only on junk food, pasta and nuggets, it is best that you diligently introduce new food to your toddler. Statistically, children will tend to accept new foods only after 10 or more exposures to the food, but it sure is a better alternative than raising a child who is at risk of becoming obese. 


Problem: My Toddler Eats Too Little

Some toddlers can take hours to finish a meal whereas others simply won’t have any more after a few bites. The biggest cause of this problem is the appetite of the toddler, who is probably still feeling full when meal time comes around.


A simply scrutiny of your child’s meal plan would be able to tell you when he or she had their last snack or drink. If your child is hungry between meals, try to get healthier snack replacements instead such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meat. This guarantees that your toddler will still be enjoying a well balanced meal, even if he or she is skipping lunch or dinner.


You should also monitor your toddler’s milk intake, as milk can be very filling. Ideally, your child should be limited to one pint of whole milk every day. He or she should then only be fed water for the rest of the day (not sweetened drinks or fruit juice!). This is because while milk is a great source for calcium and vitamins, it is low on iron content.


Make Meal Time, Family Time

As busy parents, it’s tempting to delegate the job of feeding your toddler to the other partner, grandparent, babysitter or nanny. However, try to at least make time to have the whole family eat together during the weekends. During the shared mealtime, focus on eating the same foods as your toddler, with the one difference being that no extra additives like salt should be added to the toddler’s meal. During the meal, it’s important that you remove all distractions, including your phone, pet and TV. Otherwise, your child might prefer watching a TV program or attempt to feed the dog instead!


Toddlers also learn to copy the action of other children as well, so see if you can arrange it such that your toddlers can have mealtimes together with other obedient kids whom they can emulate from. The simple act of having tea together with a friend from preschool or nursery could encourage your child to eat better. Toddlers love having control of their food intake, so try to refrain from manually feeding them each spoonful. Allow the toddlers to make a mess and experience fun eating by the dining table. The idea is not to make mealtime a boring, stressful daily process.


When In Doubt, Seek Advise

Your family doctor is the best person to help you ensure that all is well with your toddler. Your baby’s weight, length and head circumference will be measured and compared against growth charts to ensure that he or she is growing at a normal rate. He or she may also advice you on supplements that your child might require as well. Either way, parents can rest easy knowing that toddlers with fussy appetites are the norm, and that the problem will eventually be solved on its own.