It’s normal for your toddler to suddenly decide he'll only eat a few different foods. While it may be stressful to continually throw out uneaten food, try not to get too anxious. Fussy eating is simply a phase that most toddlers go through, usually in their second year.
Fear of eating new foods is called food neophobia, which humans developed as they evolved. It’s an instinctive defence against eating potentially unsafe or dangerous foods. Many toddlers display mild food neophobia from time to time. In fact, it can be reassuring to know that this instinctive fear stops your toddler from eating anything and everything he comes across!
Food neophobia can be something as simple as your toddler refusing a broken biscuit because it doesn’t look like his usual biscuit! The good news is that it doesn't tend to affect children as much in their third year or fourth year, so you’ll be glad to know that his reluctance to experiment with food is a normal stage of development that he'll soon grow out of.
Picky eating may also be your toddler’s way of showing his independence as he learns to feed himself. He may be seeing how far he can push the limits of your authority by trying to assert control over what he does and doesn't eat.
This is one reason why pressuring your toddler to eat may backfire. So try not to get frustrated when he suddenly refuses his favourite foods. Just accept that he'll eat it again in time, and remove the plate without comment.
After your toddler’s first birthday, his weight gain will slow down. So gaining less weight than before is normal at this age.
Your toddler’s appetite may well vary so that he eats lots at some meals, and barely touches anything during others. But most toddlers are generally good at regulating their own food intake, if allowed to do so. Your toddler will eat enough to meet his needs.
Here are some tips to help you make mealtimes easier for everyone:
Eat well and eat together, if you can
Provide a variety of healthy foods for your toddler at each meal. There's no need to be daunted by this. A ham sandwich with a side salad, followed by some yoghurt, covers the main food groups. Just be sure to offer different foods throughout the days and weeks.
Eat as a family with your toddler whenever you can. Toddlers learn how to eat by copying their parents and other children. Try to offer him the same food you have. If you like it, your toddler may be happier to give it a try.
Eating together also gives you the opportunity to give your toddler plenty of attention and praise when he’s eating well.
Limit the options at mealtimes
Offer him a meal that includes at least one thing that you know he likes. If your toddler is more likely to eat something he’s chosen himself, let him pick from a small selection of healthy foods.
Keep mealtimes to a set length
Most toddlers eat as much as they're going to in the first 30 minutes of a meal. Trying to persuade him to eat more after this time is unlikely to work, and will just mean unnecessary stress for you.
Introduce new foods gently
Offer your toddler just one new food at a time, and try not to make a big fuss about it. Give him a taste before putting a whole serving on his plate. Just a bite is enough. This way he won’t feel overwhelmed, and it won’t seem like a waste of food to you.
Bear in mind that you may need to offer a new food between 10 times and 15 times before your toddler's willing to try it. If he becomes reluctant to have a particular food, stop offering it for a while. You can always try again when he's a little older.
Keep an eye on what he drinks during the day
Some toddlers have little appetite at mealtimes because they’ve taken in too many calories from sweetened drinks and milk during the day.
You only need to offer between 350ml and 500ml of milk a day. Until your toddler is two, stick to full-fat milk as it contains more vitamin A than lower-fat varieties. Once your toddler is two, you can start offering semi-skimmed milk, but avoid skimmed milk until he's at least five.
Give milk to your toddler in a cup rather than in a bottle as this is better for his teeth. If your toddler doesn’t like milk, he can still get the calcium he needs with three portions of dairy foods a day, including yoghurt, cheese and custards. Between meals, give your toddler water to drink.
If you still have any concerns about your child’s fussy eating, see your GP or health visitor. Ask them to weigh and measure your toddler to check that he's growing well.