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12 tips for feeding a fussy toddler

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Mealtimes with a toddler can be SO frustrating. It's hard to believe that something as simple as eating can end up being a time of tantrums, tension and tears. Not just for the children!

If you've got a fussy toddler you are not alone. It's a developmental phase that many children of this age go through. Your toddler is not on a mini-vendetta just to irritate you, even though it sometimes feels that way. The good news is there are plenty of tricks and tips to transform meal times into a time of day you don't actually dread.

1. Realise it's a survival mechanism

A toddler’s eating habits change even if they've always loved their food as babies. One day they'll be happily chewing on broccoli florets and devouring mashed avocado and peas - and then it all changes. It usually happens when they are around 12-24 months old, and it could be a simple survival mechanism.

"At this age, young children are becoming increasingly likely to put items in their mouths during playtime - think worms, dirt, leaves, coal... anything within their newly-developing grasp and increasing reach! " says Gillian Farren, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association.

"Surprisingly, this naturally developing suspicion of all things new can also be a reason why a young child rejects a food because of its association with the child’s new learning. For instance, a child who has just discovered beetles, flies or worms in the outdoors may temporarily reject raisins or spaghetti - even though they previously enjoyed these foods - while they make sense of their new learning and figure out the difference between these items," suggests Gillian.

So remember it's actually your child being really clever and following their instincts.

2. They have sensitive tastebuds

Tastes develop as you get older. You may have hated beetroot as a toddler but have grown to like it as an adult.

"Young children have far more sensitive tastebuds than adults," says Sarah Ockwell-Smith author of 'ToddlerCalm'. "We destroy and dull our tastebuds through drinking and eating hot food, drinking alcohol, smoking and just by a process of ageing. This means that strong tasting foods, particularly those that are bitter, actually taste significantly stronger to young children than they do to us. Perhaps you may remember hating Brussels sprouts as a child, but you don't mind them now. This is why.

"Interestingly, one of the bitterest compounds we eat is chlorophyll, or in other words the compound that makes plants green. The avoidance of vegetables that are green in toddlerhood becomes understandable when we know this," adds Sarah.

3. Keep calm and carry on

Toddlers may be small, but that doesn't stop them playing power games. They are starting to see themselves as individuals and want to assert their growing independence.

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