As toddlers get older and bit more independent they often become picky about what they eat. It’s not unusual for them to turn their nose up at foods that they once enjoyed or for their appetite to change dramatically from one day to the next. After age 2, growth slows down slightly which often means appetite is reduced and at around this age children begin to understand that refusing to eat is a powerful weapon and a good way of gaining attention.
- Stay calm and don't allow meal times to turn into a battle of wills. If your child senses that you are getting wound up, the situation can easily a battle of wills, that will leave you both feeling unhappy and frustrated. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle.
- If your child refuses a certain food or meal simply clear it away without any comment - but don't then let them fill up on snacks or drinks between meals.
- Never use food as a punishment, bribe, reward or threat - it could lead to eating problems later in life.
- Toddlers only have a small stomach capacity so make sure that your child isn't spoiling his/her appetite by filling up with too much fluid between meals. Do not give drinks, other than water, for an hour before meals. At meal times only offer drinks when the food is finished.
- Be patient with new foods. Children often need repeated exposure to a new food before they are willing to try it.
- Try to stick to a routine. Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day.
- Minimize distractions at meal times. Turn off the television and don't allow books or toys at the table.
- Don't offer dessert as a reward as this simply sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child's desire for sweets.
- Expect some food preferences to stick. Everyone has food preferences so don't expect your child to like everything.
- Be aware that children often pick up bad eating habits from other members of their family. Discourage older brothers and sisters from being fussy, younger children will often mimic the behaviour of an older sibling and make sure that your own eating habits are setting a good example.
For most toddlers food fads are just a passing phase. If your child is energetic and growing, he or she is probably doing fine. Consult your child's doctor if you're concerned that picky eating is compromising your child's growth and development or if certain foods seem to make your child ill.