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Help! My toddler is a fussy eater

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Annabel Karmel's top tips for fussy eaters


1. Make mealtimes a positive experience. Hide your frustration when your toddler refuses to eat, and praise him if he eats well or tries something new. Always avoid using mealtimes to assert your authority.

2. Give your toddler a variety of foods – don't just stick to the old favourites or he may lack nutrients. If your tot has a very restricted diet, give him a small amount of a new food only when he's really hungry. If he's willing to try it, ladle on the praise. If not, let it go.

3. Give little ones smaller portions and make their meals as appealing as possible (within reason!). Think mini burgers and tiny florets of broccoli, or pizza with veg and cheese arranged as a smiley face with hair!

4. Eat as a family. The social chat should help take the focus off your toddler.

5. Cook with your kids: it stimulates the appetite, and they usually want to try what they've made.

6. Let your toddler choose ingredients: lay them out in bowls and let him fill and fold his own wrap, or select fruit pieces for a fruit salad.

 

Harry, 2, has been a fussy eater since he was a baby, but his limited diet is driving mum Louise mad. We called in top children's food expert, Annabel Karmel, to see if she could help.

Harry's story:

"I weaned Harry when he was about six months old, and to start with we had no problems. But at about nine months, I started giving him purées with a lumpier texture. That was when the fussy eating began. He hardly ate anything.

"When Harry got to the toddler stage, mealtimes became even more stressful. He used to throw food across the table and get very distressed. If I tried to coax him to eat something he'd scream and scream.

"Although I make Harry and his sister proper meals, he often only takes one bite then pushes it away. So I end up giving Harry snacks to fill him up - bread, crackers, fruit and yoghurt. Between the ages of one and two, these snacks were the only things he'd eat. Sometimes I wouldn't bother with a 'proper meal' - I'd just give him his favourites to avoid the stress.

"I really want Harry to enjoy food - I don't want mealtimes to become a battleground. And I'd love him to eat more fruit and veg."

Annabel Karmel says:

  • Praise Harry, even if he only takes the tiniest bite of a new food. And don't react when he refuses something.
  • Avoid giving alternatives. He'll soon realise that he needs to eat what you've prepared.
  • Keep introducing new foods. If you stick with the few he likes, you're inadvertently encouraging fussiness and Harry may not get enough nutrients.
  • Try sneaking veg into his diet by blending it into sauces or soups, hiding it in lasagne, or popping it under the cheese on a pizza.
  • Make your own healthy fast food, such as fish fingers and chicken nuggets.
  • Finger food helps toddlers feel more 'in control': meatballs, corn on the cob and sweet potato wedges are popular.
  • Make meals look appealing: cook mini shepherd's pies, chicken skewers (de-skewer before serving) and fruit kebabs on straws. Blend him a 'milkshake' fruit smoothie, and add a bendy straw. 
  • Create a reward chart where Harry gets a star for trying a new food. When he collects five he gets a treat (unrelated to food).

Did Annabel's fussy eating tips work?

"It's been three weeks since Annabel gave me her action plan and recipe book for fussy eaters. The biggest change is that Harry has been trying new foods. The tasty recipes and fun presentation have worked wonders. I've been cooking things like shepherd's pie in tiny dishes, and serving more finger food: Harry is actually keen to pick them up and try them!

"Disguising vegetables also works. Her hidden vegetable Bolognese sauce has been a big hit. He also likes the fruit smoothies.

"A couple of things didn't work, however. I felt he was a bit young for the star chart - but I'm sure this would work for older ones. Overall, the experiment has been a huge success. Harry is much less rigid about what he'll eat and I feel far more positive. Thank you!"