Feeding a fussy toddler

Immediate disclaimer: I am not a doctor, I am not a nutritionist nor a dietician. None of my ideas are based on science or medical research, they are just thoughts that I am letting out into the universe. 

Its all fights and negotiations with our 3 year old and it feels like it has been for years. Its ridiculous – you put so much effort into creating amazing meals for them only for them to be rejected outright or flung all over the place. 

I was so pedantic about how I introduced solids – you know the regime rice cereal followed by white veggies, then the green, then yellow finally orange and red before moving onto fruit. The perfect structure thought out and planned so that my son would not eat only fruit or sweet vegetables. And it worked, it worked for a few months until I was working full time again and I was no longer around to feed him any of his meals… (cue dramatic music) At that point in our lives we lived in South Africa and had a woman that lived with us to look after our son and she fed him all his meals and spent all day with him. She was wonderful with him and I really miss him having her around but the downside (aside from her being very very anti discipline) was that she would feed him until  the food was finished rather than feed him until he needed no more.

Now, that is my excuse for having a dreadful eater and I’m sticking to my story, well until my 1 year old becomes a dreadful eater, should that happen I will just have to admit that it is all my fault and I’m horrible at this parenting thing 🙂

Having set the scene of our struggles, I’m going to share some of the things we have done to try encourage our son to eat in the hopes that someone else has some luck and for at least one night has one less fight with their toddler.

  1. Try adding texture to the food. My 1 year old hates anything that could have one been mushy so I add some of our dinner from the previous night cut finely or (and I know this sounds bizarre) add some rice bubbles (rice crispies in South Africa) or some pasta.
  2. Try little portions of different foods on the same plate. My son loves red capsicum so I will give him some of his dinner with cut up capsicum or baked butternut cut into pieces. I know that if those are on the plate we can alternate between the different portions.
  3. Water or juice or cows milk in between bites. I don’t know what magic water holds but my son goes through stages of loving having water and left over bits of food in his mouth like a cement mixer. Its disgusting to imagine so I ignore the mental images and let him have some water at dinner or juice with his lunch.
  4. Feeding earlier. I have found that feeding my 3 year old between 5:30 and 6pm helps him eat. He’s not ridiculously tired yet and can make it through dinner without a meltdown. If you are picking your kids up late from daycare you can have left overs from the night before for dinner or sandwiches (if they get a decent meal at daycare or school).
  5. Give the meal a creative name. Its amazing what children will eat if they think its cool. You can reference the meal itself like ‘crazy crazy meatballs with lazy lazy spaghetti’ or you could call it “paw patrol porridge’ – you get my drift.
  6. Try a pre-cooked or easy cook meal. We have tried and succeeded with the Annabel Karmel range which is available from Coles which are wholesome meals with hidden veggies.
  7. Pretend take away food. My son loves chicken nuggets, I think he would eat them three times a day for a month if he could and some days I wonder if this is not the simple solution. What we have done instead is make our own chicken nuggets with chicken breast and breadcrumbs and cook them up in the oven. The other option is a store bought box of frozen nuggets made from chicken breast. With nuggets you can add almost any veggie and make them have a bite of veggies for every nugget. As with chicken nuggets there is also store bought frozen fish (fish fingers but in the shape of fish) with hidden veggies. These I find really helpful when I don’t have the energy or strength to make anything else.
  8. Cutting food into shapes. This is an age old favourite that I know my mother did with us. You can cut sandwiches into almost any shape, especially with the new super fancy sandwich cutters.  Vegetables can take on amazing shapes too but I am no culinary artist so we stick to triangles, circles, squares, hearts and stars. This may also sound bizarre but if you have playdoh cutters/shapes you can wash those a few times and then use them to cut up sandwiches, fruit and veg. Dont forget you can also make shapes / pictures by the way you arrange the food on the plate but this I only resort to in desperate times because i’m not that creative.
  9. Adding homemade sauce. My son loves ketchup, he calls it “tomatey sauce” and if I left my husband to feed him, our son would have ketchup on everything every mealtime. The way to get around this is to make up a mix of homemade sauce of any variety which you can store in the fridge and apply when necessary. If you’re making it – you know what is going into it! I make up one with tomato, red pepper, onion and garlic and its a hit. The other options are a basil sauce, mayo or sweet chilli sauce (we call it jam because he’ll eat anything with jam on).
  10. Making their eating place a special place. My son has his designated place mat at the table and that is where he eats all his meals. He also has a range of cutlery, plates and bowls which he choses from before I serve up his dinner. I find its okay to give him choice but not to much choice – so I will present him with two plates and he can choose from those.
  11. Eating what mom and dad have eaten. Now that my son is a bit older I make up a little extra of what we have had from the night before and I tell him that he’s having exactly what mom and dad had because he is such a big boy now. This does the trick in encouraging him to eat new things.
  12. Involve your child in the cooking or serving process. I find that if my son thinks he helped make it he thinks it tastes amazing. Now the problem with this is that it is so time consuming so you need to save it for a day when you’re not working and they’re not a day care otherwise it’ll be 9pm and no one will be bathed.
  13. Decrease formula consumption. The caveat here is only decrease formula consumption at the advice of your doctor or medical professional. We were told to do this at one stage by the paediatrician because our son was relying on his formula in place of food.

At the end of the day, if none of this works, just give them a piece of cheese, some ham and an apple – that’s what we did tonight 🙂

Amazing how a babychino goes down so easily.




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