How to Handle a Fussy Eater Toddler

A little girl making faces while eating

Most moms of toddlers have probably been through their fussy-eater phase. It is a frustrating experience for moms of fussy-eating toddlers to get them to eat. This article explains how you can improve the food habits of a fussy-eater toddler, the reasons why toddlers may be picky and how to deal with them.


Why is your Toddler a Picky Eater?

A little girl eating her lunch on the high chair

If you have a 3-year-old fussy eater, do not worry too much. Toddlers are usually capable of regulating their food consumption. Some of the reasons why toddlers can be fussy eaters are:

  • Picky eating is a way for the toddler to assert her independence. She may be testing the limits of the parents’ authority by deciding what she wants to eat.
  • Solid food is still a new thing for toddlers. They require time to get accustomed to the different tastes, colours and textures of foods.
  • Toddlers can move around more and are interested in exploring their environment. They do not like to sit for too long in one place, and this includes mealtimes.
  • Toddlers may not require the amount of food you think they do. The rate at which they grow slows down a little after the first year. Hence, they may eat a little less than they did earlier.
  • It is usual for toddlers to vary their eating patterns often and also change their mind about what foods they like. They may refuse to try new foods because it looks different.

How to Introduce New Foods to a Fussy-Eater?

It can be challenging to plan meals for picky eaters. Here are a few suggestions that may help make mealtimes with fussy-eating toddlers less stressful:

  • Provide an assortment of healthy foods during mealtimes. The toddler will try at least a couple of the options if you place several before them. Creating a big deal about new foods makes toddlers refuse to try them.
  • Ensure that the child has regular mealtimes. This sees that the toddler does not snack excessively. Ideally, there should be 3 regular meals with a couple of snacks in between meals. The snacks should be healthy options.
  • Introduce new foods one by one, not all together. The new food should be given in small quantities. Include one standard favourite food of your toddler’s along with the new food.
  • If you give a toddler a new food when she is really hungry, she will be more likely to try it. For example, you could introduce a few slices of new fruit at her regular snack time.
  • Make mealtimes calm and free of distractions. Make sure devices like iPads, mobiles and TVs are switched off. Eat together at the table.
  • Do not offer food with high sugar content to make a toddler eat more. Encourage her to try different things.
  • If a toddler does not want to try new food, do not force it on her. The toddler may not like the colour or texture of the food. Some toddlers refuse food because they associate it with a negative experience they had, like an illness.
  • Serve small portions of food. The portion size of food for toddlers should be a quarter of an adult portion. Stick to 1 or 2 tablespoons of rotis, rice or vegetables.
  • Add nutritive ingredients to food your toddler likes. For example, add pureed carrots to dal or fruit bits to cereal.

What you can do to Get your Toddler to Eat a Wide Variety of Foods?

Below are a few tricks on how to get your toddler to try a wide variety of foods.

  • You can make the dish attractive and colourful. Arrange it in interesting shapes that the toddler will find appealing.
  • You can try and make mealtime fun by giving the child vegetables with a tasty dip or ketchup. The familiar ketchup will tempt the toddler to try the food.
  • Give the child healthy options too much on at snack times. For example, cucumber slices or fruit are popular with toddlers.
  • You can try freezing or cooling foods to make it exciting for toddlers. For example, you can freeze pulpy fruit juice, thaw it a little and turn it into an icy slush that the toddler will love.
  • You can try ideas like making your own breakfast. For example, you can let the toddler choose from a variety of cereals, toppings and milk or yoghurt.

Other Tips to Manage Fussy-Eating Habits in Toddlers

Dealing with fussy toddlers is a task that requires immense patience and understanding. Mothers often get stressed when their toddler is a fussy eater. Here are some tips to manage fussy eating in toddlers:

  • Take the toddler seriously when she shows clear signs of being full. For example, stop forcing her to eat if she pushes your hand or turns away when offered food, refuses to open her mouth or swallow, attempts to spit out or throw up the food.
  • Do not give the toddler anything to eat right after mealtime. For example, toddlers should not be given juice or milk for up to 2 hours after a meal.
  • Allow the toddler to eat slowly. If rushed, toddlers’ appetites become reduced.
  • Have meals together as a family.

Foods for Fussy-Eating Child

Here are some foods that you can try for fussy-eating toddlers:

  • Pomegranates: These nutritious little red seeds are popular with kids. Toddlers love their colour and sweetness.
  • Tomato Soup: Most toddlers love the tangy flavour of tomato soup, even if they do not like tomatoes. Make it interesting by adding animal or alphabet shaped crackers.
  • Sauteed Broccoli: Well-cooked broccoli can have a mushy texture. Try lightly sautéed broccoli. The toddler will like its crunchy texture and little tree-like appearance.
  • Fruit salad with whipped cream and honey: Get together some chopped fruits of various colours, add a dollop of whipped cream on it and drizzle some honey over it. Toddlers will love this healthy snack.
  • Hummus: Kids like the creamy texture of this chickpea dip. The hummus can be used as a spread, dip or even as a filling for sandwiches.
  • Peas: Lightly steamed peas sprinkled with a little salt will make an interesting dish for toddlers.
  • Pineapple: Toddlers love the flavour, but dislike the texture. Try giving them pureed pineapple mixed into a cup of yogurt. You can slowly move on to pineapple bits, and finally to actual fruit pieces.
  • Cucumbers: Toddlers love the crunchiness of cucumbers. Let them munch on cucumber slices in between meals.

How to Tell Whether your Kid is Getting Enough Food or if he isn’t growing?

Each child grows at a different pace. Do not fret if you feel like your toddler is not growing quickly. Monitor the toddler’s monthly weight and height measurements. You can talk to the doctor if you are concerned that there is not enough weight gain in your toddler.

However, you should avoid hovering during mealtimes and forcing the child to eat more. This will only make a picky eater much fussier.

When to Consult a Doctor?

If a toddler’s height and weight are appropriate for her age, and she eats an adequate amount of food, there is no need for concern about fussy-eating habits. A doctor should be consulted only in case the child has a medical condition or is not maintaining the height and weight appropriate for a child her age.

Fussy-eating is a passing phase in most toddlers and will be gone before you know it. Deal with the picky-eater with patience and understanding. The eating habits of a fussy-eater will definitely improve over time.