How to deal with a fussy eating toddler

Runner beans

Food refusal (either turning up their noses at new foods or rejecting foods that have previously been accepted) is really common among little kids + is a completely normal part of their development so try not to take it personally – it's not your parenting or your cooking skills!

There are countless reasons why little kids reject previously accepted foods. It might be because of their colour, shape, texture or taste and it’s just your toddler trying to work out what’s safe to them. Our ancestors would reject food that tasted bitter, smelled off, that looked brown or mouldy, or felt squishy + slimy because these were signs that the food might not be safe to eat!

Unfortunately, healthy foods like green vegetables taste bitter and other foods can be squishy or slimy, like banana. While the rejection response might once have been protective against eating poisonous foods, it now is more likely to result in a big “NO!” to broccoli.

Top tip

Offer a rejected food in different forms

Claire Baseley

Food refusal is a normal part of development

Food refusal doesn’t mean your toddler is fussy or picky. It’s a normal part of development. But some little kids can become fussy, and this is, in part, due to genetics and the reason why some will be pickier than others.

Food refusal + fussiness can be a phase that usually hits its peak around the age of 2 years but don't worry! It does pass with time. There are lots of things you can do to navigate this tricky period and avoid mealtime battles.

How can I encourage my toddler to try new foods?

Lots of research shows that repeatedly offering a rejected food can increase its familiarity and eventually lead to acceptance. This can take 15-20 separate experiences of that food though, so you might want to make a note of how many times you’ve offered that food on a tracker or in an app [link to: https://www.childfeedingguide....].

Top tip

Eat together as a family

Claire Baseley

How to experience new foods

A lot of the advice on navigating the fussy phase aims to improve familiarity with that food via experience. An experience of a food doesn’t necessarily mean it has been tasted. It can be touching a raw piece of broccoli, helping with the cooking, even if the food doesn’t go on their plate, or putting the food to their lips without tasting it. It all counts and these experiences can be less wasteful than throwing away food multiple times at mealtimes without it being eaten.

It’s all about getting to the magic number of 15-20 experiences, which can feel daunting but here are some ways to help that don’t just involve putting a rejected food on your toddler’s plate 20 times!

  • Ready, steady, play! Try sensory food play outside of mealtimes to help familiarise your little one with veggies and fruits without them feeling like they have to eat them. Encourage your toddler to explore new or previously rejected food with all their senses in fun ways. We have loads of games + activities to help you with sensory food play at home!
  • Role model good eating behaviour – if your toddler sees you, their siblings or friends eating a food they have rejected or are wary of, they might feel happier to give it a try. Eating together as a family when you can is great for showing toddlers how it’s done, without too much pressure!
  • Serve food family style – this means putting food in the middle of the table + letting little kids serve themselves (with a little bit of help). You choose what’s served up (+ you can pop cooking dishes and saucepans straight on the table without transferring to bowls to save on washing up if you like). It’s up to your toddler to decide what they choose + how much of each to eat. That way, they can see a disliked food on the table, but they don’t feel they have to eat it. It still counts as an experience of that food.
  • Offer variety – like family style serving, if you give a choice of 2 or 3 veggies to go on the plate + encourage everyone to pick 1 or 2, you toddler can feel in control of what they’re eating, while still being exposed to a variety of foods.
  • Pop a side plate next to your toddler’s main plate – if they decide they don’t want to eat a food, they can pop it on the side plate. There’s no pressure to eat the food but when they put it to one side, they’re interacting with it + therefore increasingly their familiarity, even without eating it.
  • Offer a rejected food in different forms – instead of boiling or steaming veg, try stir frying or roasting them; instead of cooked carrot, offer it raw and finely grated

Toddler recipes for fussy eaters

Did you know we have over 100 quick + easy recipes for you + your little one to make at home! From very first tastes all the way to the big table, there's something yummy for the whole family to enjoy – including fussy little eaters!

Take a peek and get cooking!

Lots of our recipes include top tips on how to engage the senses or get your little one involved + having fun when cooking…enjoy!

Discover our toddler meals

Cheesy veg pasta with oozing mozzarella

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Nicely spiced veggie chilli with fluffy quinoa

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Pasta bolognese with red peppers

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Veggie + chicken rice with warm fruity spices

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Claire Baseley

Infant nutritionist / Makes Ella's Good