Food refusal is a normal developmental stage that most toddlers go through. One factor is the fear of new foods (neophobic stage) which usually commences at 12 months, peaks at 20 months and then gradually diminishes. In order for food refusal to not escalate and to encourage good eating habits despite these behaviours, it is really important that the way these behaviours are responded to early on are considered.

Ignoring fussiness is good on one level and is frequently offered as advice, but this only works if positive eating behaviours are encouraged along side. By ignoring we mean do not let the child’s behaviour affect you - try to remain calm, create a relaxing eating environment and continue to offer the foods you would like your child to eat.

So how do you encourage the positive behaviours?

  1. Model good eating habits. Eat together at a table, eat a variety of foods, try new foods and recipes.

  2. Create a positive eating environment. Try to plan meals in advance and give yourself time to cook, so that the lead up to the meal is not stressful and meals aren’t rushed. Lay the table (children can help with this!) and have everything you need ready before everyone sits up. Once seated focus on each other and talk about your days…not about the food and how much is or isn’t being eaten.

  3. Offer a choice at meal and snack times by either offering a choice between two foods you have chosen or laying the dishes on the table for the child to help themselves. You then have to allow them free-reign to eat what they choose and not force them to have some of every dish.

  4. Don’t try to hide new foods as this may only lead to them rejecting the food that you hid it in which they previously liked. Instead offer a very small amount of the new food alongside the other foods. For some toddlers (and older children) this may be best done by making sure it isn’t touching the other foods on the plate or offering it on a side plate.

  5. Don’t bribe your child to eat or pressure them and make sure you praise them when they have eaten (once the meal has finished) rather than commenting on when they don’t.

  6. Allow your child to feed themselves and trust when they say they’ve had enough (even if you feel like they’ve barely eaten).

If you find your child’s behaviours at mealtimes too challenging then seek advice. Likewise, seek advice if they are not growing or their food choices become extremely limited.