Dear Aunt Juniper,
My just turning 1 year old is the fussiest eater ever! He only has a handful of things that he will eat.
I’ve tried him with everything we eat, but he won’t even try it! He only likes porridge, meatballs and potato croquettes which I make from scratch, sandwiches, bananas, yogurt and carrot puffs! He won’t let me feed him but rarely picks up finger foods.
I’m at my wits end and although he’s not losing weight I worry about the developmental impact his diet will have on him, since he’s not getting many vitamins or nutrients!
He does love his milk!
Any tips, recipes or advice would help. I’m a stay at home mum so I have time to make things.
Food refusal is common in young children and something many parents are struggling with (or have struggled with) as they read your post. For most it is part of growing up and a survival mechanism to avoid your ever increasingly mobile and curious toddler from poisoning themselves by putting everything in their mouth. This said, I can appreciate it is very stressful and changes what should be an enjoyable (albeit messy) part of the day into a unrelaxed and upsetting experience for you – and it’s something you can’t ignore given your little one needs feeding at least 3 times a day.
So what are you already doing that you should continue to do?
Firstly, it’s great that you are offering home cooked food and continuing to offer new foods. Don’t stop this, and re-try with new foods again and again; we know it can take ten or twenty times before some children finally like and accept new foods. It’s also good to hear your little one is being offered the opportunity to feed himself (again, don’t stop this) and that he likes a range of textures. His limited range of accepted foods still contain the key food groups i.e. meat for protein, carbohydrate rich foods such as potato or bread for energy, yogurt and milk for calcium, bananas for antioxidants and nutrients for good health and normal growth.
What could you try differently?
I note you mentioned your little one “loves milk”. Aside from filling up their tummies, toddlers associate milk with lots of positive feelings, especially if milk feeding times have been a time for cuddles followed by a lovely little doze…. Why would your little one want to stop this experience! But too much milk could be affecting his appetite for solid foods. Some questions to ask yourself:
- Does your child have over 360mls (12oz) milk per day?
- Is he waking for milk in the night?
- Does he still drink his milk from a bottle?
If you answered yes to at least 1 of these then it’s likely his milk intake is too high. Mums regularly tell me their toddler still has 3 or 4 x 8oz bottles of milk which can leave little space in their small tummy for much else. If this sounds similar then a good starting point would be to replace some of his milk drinks with water and limit his milk volume to 12oz per day (this is actually all they need to meet their calcium requirements). Also if your little one is still attached to a bottle, changing to a beaker/cup may result in smaller milk volumes. If you are offering milk during the night gradually start to reduce this either by reducing the volume offered or by diluting the milk. Hopefully less milk during the night will make for a hungry little boy the next day.
I appreciate the above sounds easy but in reality can be tiring and frustrating. Persevere, as your little one needs to start to rely on food for his energy, not milk, and the early years are the prime time to introduce variety. If the above results in more meatballs and sandwiches being consumed but no desire to try new foods, you can try these simple tips:
- Never force feed your little one as this will only create an unpleasant experience for both.
- If at first you don’t succeed, try again! As already stated you may need to offer a new food up to 10-20 times (maybe more..) before your little one accepts a new food. Only offer a very small portion alongside food you know your little one likes. My youngest refused most vegetables and I continued to leave 1 carrot stick or 2 green beans on his plate and now he eats them most of the time.
- Keep quiet and don’t offer encouragement. If refused, simply clear away the food without comment. Don’t then offer milk straight away, children quickly realise how to get what they want! A second course can then be offered.
- Children quickly learn that by not eating they can get more attention. Only acknowledge the behaviour you want i.e. eating, and ignore the unwanted behaviour.
- Keep mealtimes short and sweet! Finish the meal after about 20-30 minutes, as if food is going to be consumed it will generally be within this time frame.
- Offer two courses at every meal, with set snacks between meals to avoid an over-hungry child.
- Your little one learns from those around him, so where possible eat together. Invite friends and their children around (ones who you know have a good appetite) – as children have been shown to copy their peers.
- Children are notorious for changing their mind regularly about their likes and dislikes, and also their appetites can vary enormously from day to day. To ease some anxiety you can give daily vitamins. The Department of Health recommendations daily Vitamin A, C and D for children under 5.
- Keep a diary! At this young stage it is best to look back over a week period instead of day-to-day; the results might surprise you.
The above list is by no means exhaustive! If you continue to worry about your child’s eating habits you can ask your GP or Health Visitor to refer you to an NHS dietitian. Also there can be medical reasons why your little one might not eat, namely 1) if your child is constipated and/or 2) if your child is anaemic. If you suspect either it is important to seek advice from your health visitor or GP.
Good evidence based resources online include:
I do hope the above helps and mealtimes start to become enjoyable.
Lots of Love,
Aunt Juniper* xx
*On this occasion, Aunt Juniper was Victoria from Cherry Tree Nutrition.
Cherry Tree Nutrition is a private dietetic practice in Blackheath which offers individual consultations for adults and children and group workshops on pre-school nutrition and family meal planning. Registered dietitians are qualified experts in diet and nutrition and translate scientific evidence into practical advice to help people make healthier choices. The title “dietitian” is protected by law. For more information email email@example.com.
FROM THE MUMMY’S GIN FUND FACEBOOK COLLECTIVE:
‘You can get multi-vitamin drops if you are worried. You can put them in his milk.’
‘You could try this book. It’s got loads of easy to make recipes and my 12mo daughter eats most of them. She was quite fussy at first but now eats lots. Her favourite is the pesto added to pasta which I also add blitzed chicken into (she won’t eat meat if she can see it…). I also use the My Lovely Little Lunchbox blog – fritters, broccoli pasta, and various other bits. I’ve got lots of the successful recipes printed.
’Banana pancakes. One banana and one egg mushed together. Fried in a bit of butter. Normally makes 2 small ones they are lovely and don’t take much effort if he doesn’t like them. My boy used to turn his nose up at it, but I’d sometimes make him try it, and most of the time he ate it. He probably just didn’t like the look of it. x’
’I feel for you, but would like to reassure you that things do get better. My sons (now in their 30s and 40s) were both unbearably fussy, but now they are the most adventurous of eaters, and have been for years. I would say – don’t make an issue of it, but introduce things gradually and without comment. If he doesn’t eat them, just take them away. The old saying, “he’ll eat if he’s hungry” isn’t far wrong and you sound the kind of person who’s not going to replace nourishing food with rubbish. Be patient, it will be alright.’
‘I feel for you as my little boy was/is the same. The turning point for us was nursery, as he was much more open to giving it a go when there were other kids around. He started nursery at 13 months and it took a couple of weeks. I’m probably a bit mean but if he refuses to eat something that I know he likes I’ll offer fruit or a yoghurt but not an alternative for the meal. The only exception is when he tries something for the first time. I really praise him but don’t make a big deal if he doesn’t like it. X’
‘’Do you eat together? I found much better results eating the same meals with my LO at the same time. My mum also showed me a silly but effective trick of pretending to pinch the food she wasn’t sure of to eat myself & making a great fuss of how yummy it is.’
‘Grate carrot or finely chopped broccoli, etc into his food. My boy is the same but started nursery in august and he ate a carrot stick at the weekend, I nearly screamed with excitement but obviously just casually chewed one myself.’
‘Is this or a new thing or always been on the fussy side? If a new thing it may be due to a common developmental leap when they are on the cusp of walking.’
‘Yes, we’ve been through plenty of similar phases with both of ours. With my 1st I begged, threatened, blackmailed…with my second I just assumed she’d eat when she was hungry (stopped giving away snacks while meals weren’t eaten though) and it resolved itself.’
‘The best approach (for mum to stay sane and baby not to obsess over meal times) I found was essentially to act as if there was no issue at all, keep offering meals as normal, and if they refused, just say “you don’t have to eat it”. Offer dessert as normal and let them know they can leave the table if everybody else is done.’
‘I agree, food she can feed herself with. Also, no judging at all because I’ve been there, but “tricking” by sneaking the spoon in is not going to help; food really quickly becomes a control issue and though it might seem counter-intuitive, giving her more control will help. There’s a fab book called “Help, my child won’t eat” by a pediatrician called Carlos Gonzales. Also look at “division of responsibility ” for meals, basically you provide, but allow them to decide whether to eat it.’
‘We did BLW, I’ve always just given my children the same as we are eating, they get it put in front of them and we all eat together. Try not to pay too much attention. Sometimes she might eat lots, other not so much but that is fine, look at her food intake over a week. Lots of variety. (Although both of mine have been greedy little things so feel free to ignore me).’
‘I’d say you are stressing too much. At her age most of her nutrition is coming from milk and food should be more about exploring tastes and textures. By going down the route of bribing, you will be making a rod for your own back. Relax, breathe, realise she’s a human being and won’t starve.. And start again.’
‘This is a good, short book, not about what they eat but how they eat, and what we can do to make is an easier path. Essentially leave them be, I learnt the hard way and agree with all of the above. If you leave them to get on with it, will do much better, and what ever happens will not starve!! ‘
‘Buy this book: ‘War & Peas: Emotionally Aware Feeding – end the battle with picky eaters’.
‘Another tip I used with my eldest, who is still very much a grazer (but I’ve learned not to care!) is leave little bowls of things dotted around: raisins, small crackers, breadsticks.’
‘Give her a spoon and let her try feeding it to herself at same time. It’s messy but at this age everything is messy and they want to play with their food, feel it through their fingers etc. My son is the same but he eats a lot as long as he is in control of something, i.e. a spoon, cup, plastic wine glass(!), sunglasses, remote… anything to distract him. His latest thing is to feed me his food! It’s all fun at this age!’
‘I don’t have huge amounts of advice as I made a right pigs ear of weaning, but I will say that the more stressful the process becomes the harder it is to turn around later. My daughter is 4.5 and is having issues eating at school and it is still a battle (one which we don’t entertain as much anymore). In my experience the early weaning experience paves the way of a relationship to food so as hard as it is, try to trust her and supplement with milk or lots of the foods she does eat. She will find her way, I know it doesn’t seem like it though.’
‘Put a selection of foods in front of her. That’s it. That’s all you do.’
’My youngest was/is like this. His food intake varies, and his willingness to eat certain foods is not at all consistent. I ignore it. I whinge about it to my friends, but he has no idea how I feel. Our mantra is “You don’t have to eat it”.’
‘I mean this with all love and total understanding of how shit and worrying this can be (I’ve been there), but you need to stop trying so hard. It’s not about the food, it’s about the fact she gets to spend an hour every meal time with you focused on her.’
‘Taking the heat out of it is the way forward. You need to reassure yourself of a few things: (1) if she’s still drinking milk, she’s not going to waste away; (2) if she’s snacking, you can sneak good food into her that way – fruit, sticks of toast or cheese etc; (3) she just might not be ready for the whole ‘meal time’ thing yet, so the thing you can focus on is not what she eats but the ritual. In other words sitting at a table with everyone, and the table being a fun place to be.’
‘Totally seconding what lots of others have said above – she’s old enough to feed herself and to be eating what the rest of the family eats. Cook for everyone, put some bits of food in front of her and let her get on with it. Don’t focus on her and what she’s eating. Talk and laugh with everyone else and enjoy your food. If she doesn’t eat anything, don’t worry (and give her a bit of toast later on while she’s distracted by playing or whatever).’
‘I speak from experience. My eldest was a bloody nightmare from weaning until he started school. Looking back on it, we just totally bought into the game. He’s a great eater now – school dinners and us not being there is what did it.’ Huge solidarity though – I totally remember how stressful it is. X’
‘Key is to definitely stay calm and try not to stress as she will feel this from you.. Defo recommend putting food straight on tray – even cereal, just drain off the milk. It will take a while but she will start exploring the textures and start to taste. The more she does it the easier it will become! I was so stressed out with my daughter but every day got easier and within no time she began to eat and enjoy every mealtime – she now eats everything!! She is getting everything from her milk so don’t panic, as it will feel like nothing is going down! But in time it will change and you will be so surprised I guarantee! Good luck xx’
‘My little fella was the same. I had to “pretend” I was giving him a drink and then get the spoon in his mouth, then one day I thought to myself, what the hell am I doing, I’m force feeding my kid cause I think he needs it. And yes he did but I decided to take a step back, give him the food/spoon and away he went. Took a few days.’
’If she’s hungry she will eat. That is a very hard thing to remember at meal times, especially when they won’t eat what you have prepared. I had to remind myself only this evening. But don’t be hard on yourself, she looks healthy and one day you’ll look round and she will be flying along. Good luck xx’
‘Mine was the same. But one day she just started eating properly. I think as long as she is putting on weight you needn’t worry.’
‘It can help your daughter to eat with her friends so she can copy them. Try to be relax cause they pick up that you’re anxious very quickly. Don’t rush her. Toddlers like to take their time.’
‘Eat with her so she learns it’s a shared activity. Let her take food from your plate x’
‘Aw I feel for you I really do. My daughter, now 3 didn’t eat solids until she was about 1 1/2 and even then was minimal, due to oral aversion brought on by silent reflux as a baby. It’s stressful but the trick is to make it fun and not to trick her. We had help from speech and language therapists who specialise in this and tricking them is a big no no. I wrote down all the advice they gave us if you want to have a read and try it out. http://scrambledeggsblog.blogspot.co.uk/…/feeding…’
’Play games with food, let her feed herself or try anything she reaches for from your plate. We filled a baby bath with custard and let her sit in it and play with it! Anything to get her to taste. She’ll get there eventually but you want to avoid making it a negative experience.’
‘Meal times need to be fun and adventurous with toddlers exploring food, squishing it and feeling the textures. Let her handle food, make a mess and put bits in her mouth herself, otherwise she’ll just resent meal times and stop opening her mouth when a spoon is around. Good luck.’
‘Once she eats a big spoonful congratulate her. Cheer like a mad woman and laugh and smile. Then continue after next spoonful. She needs positivity from eating if she struggles to eat a lot. We’ve all been here and it’s trial and error. Good luck. It’ll come soon xx’
‘Been there with my first. It can be just awful. It is incredibly hard not to get stressed about it. It’s so worrying to see them eat nothing but yoghurt for days on end. We were lucky in that our daughter would eat at nursery and given she was in 4 days a week that made me happier. Can you do lunch dates with other toddlers? We do lots of cooking together, when she was younger it was just stirring things, or putting things in the pot, but this has increased as she’s grown older. Doesn’t always work (memorably the time we made pizza from scratch and she ate a bit of every topping, some sauce and some raw dough and THEN refused to eat it cooked!) Also recently we bought her one of those plates with 4 compartments so she serves herself and chooses what goes in which compartment (this helps with control issues). We also eat together when we can. She likes being given things for eating a mouthful, such as part of a puzzle that she puts together or stacking rings (the other day I was going out for the first time this year and for each mouthful I showed her what a different bit of makeup did). She is now old enough to ask when she wants this type of distraction, so obviously enjoys it. Essentially she eats when she wants to but I do my best to try to get her to want to. We’ve had an hour per meal 3 x a day for well over a year and it really gets me down a lot. But it does seem to be slowly improving, so hang on in there. I hope the above gives you some ideas, probably none of it makes a blind bit of difference but sometimes you just need to feel like you’re doing all you can!’
’My sister spoke to a child nutritionist around this age and was told not to worry about veg/variety if they are fussy but if they will only eat things like bread then give them lots of it. Carbs are the most important. My niece is now 3 and will eat anything! My LO is 2 and a half (9th percentile) and super fussy but as long as food goes in then I don’t mind. She is active and regular on the toilet so all ok. Good luck. x’
‘Massive sympathies – I have totally been there (and still dealing with eating issues at nearly 3). A book called ‘My Child Won’t Eat’ by Carlos Gonzalez changed my attitude – it incorporates a lot of the advice above. Highly recommended. Also Ellyn Satter’s website.’
’Instead of a high chair maybe try a little table and chairs.’
‘Also – choice can be good. Give a choice of 2 meals every now and again. If he’s says he doesn’t want either than tough. Those are the choices: which do you prefer. That little offer of choice/independence can sometimes be a big thing. You’ve tried to involve him by cooking, which is also a great idea, but just a simple choice from a menu can also be a game changer.’
‘Unless a child has a specific issue with food I’m of the opinion that it’s just about who is more stubborn. A child won’t allow themselves to starve. If it were me, I’d be avoiding anything on that list for a week and see how long she holds out before trying something new. Some children with autism really struggle with new foods so in that situation I’d be a lot more flexible. But in the case of a mainstream, otherwise healthy child I’d go hardcore. That’s just me though.’
‘Have you tried putting one new type of food on her plate along with the ones she does eat and seeing if this makes an impact? Lots of praise and a choice of desert treat for afterwards? Saw it on Super Nanny and tried with my picky eater and it did work, after a fashion.’
‘My son is 7 and has always been a fussy eater, although is definitely getting better as he gets older. But I have to saying, trying / forcing him to eat something has never ever worked – if he doesn’t want to eat something it will not pass his lips. It’s not him being obstinate, he is evidently really upset by it but it’s a really mental thing, he just can’t put it in his mouth. I think trying to make him do it makes it worse. I now just put things on his plate and if he doesn’t eat it I don’t have an argument (just doesn’t always get pudding!) I was really fussy as a child but just gradually grew out of it.’
‘The choice of what to provide for dinner is yours, the choice of whether to eat it or not is hers. If you can choose to make dinners that can be reheated then they can be offered again later when she probably would ask for a snack?’
‘The only advice I can offer you is to NOT BUY INTO IT!’
‘One positive breakthrough recently has been getting a small smoothie maker and introducing protein powder shake mix for kids – with it I can blend up any fruit combo & she loves it. Otherwise she dislikes all fruit and would eat none. Since giving her regular protein shakes plus egg loaded pancakes she’s actually started to have a healthier looking body shape, though she’s still tiny for her age.’
‘Good luck to all parents struggling with fussy eaters, it’s soooo difficult but hang in there. I keep telling myself it can’t last forever!’
‘My son is 7 and hasn’t had a hot meal since he was 18mths when he basically stopped eating. His diet has consisted of rice cakes, bread, salted crisps and Thomas the Tank Engine petit filous since. The diet isn’t just restrictive but also brand specific! He has been diagnosed with AFRID – avoidant restrictive food intake disorder by the Evelina children’s hospital. Whilst his diet appears to be completely unhealthy he is thriving, above average weight and height and in all the top groups at school. We have tried everything suggested to us and nothing has worked. This isn’t about stubbornness, it’s not something that a battle of wills can win. As a family it’s extremely hard especially if you have a younger child that wants to eat the same as the brother or sister that that has a limited diet. From the age of 2 we have been told things will change when he starts nursery, when he starts school, when he starts juniors…..nothing has changed. We keep trying and suggesting new things only to be met with complete refusal. The Evelina has advised us to not focus to much on meal times and to try to relax about the whole situation. Easier said than done!’
‘My 4 yr old is the same, he sees food and runs away.’
Note: These are suggestions from members of Mummy’s Gin Fund based on experience and should not be treated as official advice. Any action taken is at your own risk. Always seek professional advice if you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of your life.
Always consult NHS 111, your GP, health visitor or A&E for professional medical advice.