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Fussy eating

Food refusal or faddy eating is very common in toddlers. By 18 months many have entered what is known as the ‘neophobic phase’ (literally meaning ‘fear of the new’) where they are reluctant to try new foods. It is important to reassure parents for whom this can be a very concerning time, especially when trying to follow healthy eating advice.

There can be various reasons why toddlers begin to refuse foods. Perhaps they are drinking too much fluid or eating too many snacks in between mealtimes, which may be filling them up with the calories they should be getting from a meal. If parents are forcing their toddler to finish all the food on their plate, it can increase toddler’s anxiety towards particular foods or if food is used as a reward they may begin to prefer sweet over savoury and reject the latter.

To help parents overcome this phase or avoid it, you should firstly make sure parents don’t allow their toddler to fill up on too much food or drink outside mealtimes. Parents should calmly expose toddlers to the foods that are refused but not force them to eat them as it could worsen the problem. Toddlers learn by copying people around them so eating in a social situation, especially watching others eat the same foods that are on their plate, can encourage them to try new foods. Encouraging families to eat dinner together is important not only to set an example to toddlers & children, but also for family affairs!

Our fussy eating leaflet offers parents strategies on how to cope.

HiPP Nutritionist Helen giving advice for parents on how to cope with a fussy eater

Extreme food refusal

Some children find it hard to move out of this phase and will only eat a limited range of food. This can be worrying for parents and it is important that you reassure them that it is just a phase. Make sure their child is eating enough calories for growth & if their diet is very poor consider vitamin & mineral supplements.

    Advise parents to follow these tips in cases of extreme food refusal:
  • never force toddlers to eat disliked foods, just gently encourage them
  • don’t withhold accepted foods in exchange for disliked foods (this can discourage toddlers from eating anything and may lead to weight loss if they refuse to eat more foods)
  • avoid putting disliked & liked foods together in case they refuse everything
  • don’t avoid long gaps between meals, offer small snacks in between