Hunger Strike – Tips for feeding a fussy eater

Freddie went on hunger strike this week. He picked at everything I offered him and then pushed his plate away or swept it all on the floor. I have had to draw on every ounce of patience and take several deep breaths while encouraging and coercing him to have a ‘taste’. It didn’t seem to matter what I offered him, even his favourites were rejected (sweetcorn fritters, custard, quesadillas, bananas and yoghurt). It feels like all he’s eaten is marmite on toast and scrambled eggs!

Most toddlers go through phases of being fussy eaters, turning their noses up at the delicious meals their mums or dads have prepared. There can be lots of reasons for these phases and just because they haven’t eaten what you offer them definitely doesn’t mean they don’t like whats on offer, as often they won’t have even tasted it. The are many different reasons why a toddler might go through a fussy phase, here are just a few:

  • Teething and sickness – thinking up meals that are easy to chew and swallow as well as nutritious always helps Freddie, smoothies and home-made ice-pops are a great option.
  • Change in routine – some toddlers might react to changes such as starting daycare or the arrival of a new sibling by rejecting food. You can be pretty sure that once they get used to the new routine they will start eating again.
  • Asserting their independence – toddlers are finding their place in the world, testing boundaries and learning about acceptable behaviour. Refusing food can bring about some great reactions!
  • Busy, busy, busy – life as a toddler is full on. Mealtimes may feel like a chore, stopping them from playing and getting on with their own agenda.

There are a few facts that are worth keeping at the front of your mind when your toddler is going through one of these fussy phases.

  • Appetite – once your baby reaches about 1 years old their growth rate will decline and as a result they won’t be as hungry.
  • New food aversion – it can take 10, 20 or even more tastes of a new food for your toddler to like it. I also try to remember that we don’t all like all foods. So why should toddlers have to?
  • A healthy baby never starves themselves – if you are concerned about your toddler’s eating habits and feel they are not thriving or meeting their milestones, or that the fussy phase has been prolonged talk to a health professional who will be able to give you more advice or at least put your mind at rest.

This recent phase of Freddie’s got me thinking about the tricks I use to help me keep my cool and make sure mealtimes stay happy times even if not much eating gets done!

  • Separating foods – toddlers often go through a phase when they like their foods separated rather than mixed up. So try cooking meatballs with veggies and pasta on the side rather than spaghetti bolognase!
  • Make the portions smaller – you can always offer seconds. I included a guideline to portion sizes that I find really helpful in my recent post Tips on how to get an 11 month old to eat more breakfast. Most Mums and Dads expect their toddlers to eat more than they are and feel that their toddler doesn’t eat enough.
  • Eat together – making eating social and offering a role model can help some toddlers. Frustratingly when Freddie is in one of his fussy phases he will always eat at other people’s homes or with other children, just not with me!
  • Try out a variety of tastes and textures – variety can help encourage eating. You may also find your toddler has a preference towards certain textures or tastes.
  • Make it look exciting – draw smiley faces on fritters, have lots of different colours and arrange the meals you are serving up appealingly to entice your fussy eater to have a taste.
  • Give them independence – give them finger foods and their own cutlery, even if it is messy. Being a grown up eater might be incentive enough to do some eating!
  • Encourage a ‘taste‘ – I try and offer a taste of a new food alongside familiar favourites and rather than making Freddie eat it all I try and encourage him to taste the new food and give him lots of praise and encouragement for giving it a go.
  • Involve them in choosing and preparing meals – when Freddie is in a fussy phase I make a real effort to include him in chooseing and making foods.  A limited choice of healthy options, for example weetbix or eggy bread for breakfast, kiwi fruit or apple for a snack, chicken or fish for tea.
  • Limit ‘treat’ foods – It is so easy for your toddler to fill up on snacks that are probably not all that healthy between meals, so that when they sit down to a meal they are not hungry enough.
  • End the meal if it’s going nowhere – If Freddie is refusing to eat, instead of offering a whole array of alternatives I give him the option to get down. Generally half an hour or so later he’s hungry and eats what I had offered him earlier with much less fuss, although he will usually ask for something else first. He ate cold porridge and banana very enthusiastically a couple of days ago – I offered to reheat it but he wasn’t fussed. YUCK!
  • Keep calm – as frustrating as that phrase is, especially when muttered by my well meaning husband, it definitely is the key to success. If I’m feeling stressed about how much Freddie is eating he definitely eats less.

Thankfully Freddie’s phase seems to have been short lived as today he has eaten about three times as much as I have! If you’ve found this post helpful and are interested in other ways to make mealtimes happy and social times check out this post. I would also love to hear your helpful hints for getting a fussy eater to gobble down their meals.


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