How to expand your child's palate
8 min read
Every parent wants their little one to have the best start in life, and for many mums and dads, this means trying to make sure their toddler has a range of nutritious and exciting food throughout the day. But who hasn’t spent two hours preparing a delicious and wholesome meal for their little one to enjoy … only for them to take one look at it, shove it to one side, and demand the exact same meal they’ve eaten for the past week?
It can be overwhelmingly frustrating (and, at times, even upsetting) to try and feed a fussy eater, but it’s important to remember that you’re certainly not alone! Fussy eating is a phase many toddlers will go through, usually between the ages of one and two. US parenting expert Elizabeth Pantley has estimated that around 85% of parents report that they have a child who is, or has been, picky with their food at least some of the time. And ¼ of all parents surveyed reported that their child would flat-out refuse to try new food when offered. (Find out more here)
It’s completely natural to be concerned that your toddler isn’t going to thrive if they don’t appear to be eating enough. But NHS guidelines say that as long as your child is growing and seems to be healthy, they will be getting enough nutrients – so try not to worry too much! Have a quick chat with your GP if you are worried your child is losing weight or very lethargic, though.
To help turn your little one from a fussy to a fearless eater, try following some of our top tips!
DO stop the dinnertime battle before you even get to the table by including your little one in meal preparation. This could be letting them pick exciting ingredients at the supermarket, planning a new meal, or helping in the kitchen. If your toddler feels excited about the food they’re about to eat, they’ll be much more likely to try new things!
TOP TIP: Jobs for little ones could be tearing up lettuce leaves, holding mixing bowls, or stirring ingredients in a bowl (with a helping hand from Mum or Dad, of course!)
DON’T make assumptions about what your child will or won’t like. Avoid negative phrases like “You won’t like that”.
DO let your little one make some decisions about their food. Experts have suggested that some toddlers are fussy eaters because they are beginning to test their independence, so by allowing them some control over dinnertime, they’ll be more inclined to try new things.
TOP TIP: Ask your toddler how they want to eat certain ingredients – do they want their carrots cooked or raw? Do they want broccoli or cauliflower cheese for lunch?
DON’T let your toddler graze on snacks throughout the day, as their tummies will be too full by mealtimes! Feed your toddler three main meals and two healthy snacks a day, and make sure to include all the major food groups each time. This also means that you know your child is getting plenty of nutrition over a day, and this will put your mind at ease that one unsuccessful mealtime isn’t the end of the world!
TOP TIP: Remember that it’s not only food that can be filling up your toddler! Fruit juices, water, and milk will all fill up little tummies. Experts recommend that you only need to offer your toddler between 350ml and 500ml of milk a day.
DO let your toddler feed themselves at mealtimes (this may mean saying goodbye to clean floors for some time…) as this gives your little one a chance to decide what they eat, and also the pace at which they eat. Sometimes, toddlers who are described by their parents as “fussy eaters” are in fact just slow eaters, so have patience and let your child set their own pace.
TOP TIP: Brightly coloured cutlery can encourage your little one to feed themselves, and get them excited about new foods at mealtimes!
DON’T use food as a reward/punishment system. Although it’s tempting to offer dessert in exchange for just one more mouthful of peas, this creates a negative association with vegetables that is hard to break.
DO make mealtime a fun group activity. Although this can be tough, especially if you have a busy work schedule, it’s really important to try and sit down with your toddler as much as possible, so your little one sees that mealtimes are an enjoyable and sociable time. Some experts have also suggested that one reason children are picky eaters is evolutionary – it makes good sense not to eat new foods if you think they could harm you! So if your little one can see you eating the same as them, they will feel reassured that it’s safe to try the delicious new foods in front of them.
TOP TIP: Toddlers can often eat the same food as the rest of the family, or at least some elements of the meal. Just be sure to check that everything in the meal is suitable for your little one (find out more here) and make sure to keep an eye out for any choking hazards.
DON’T have anything at the table that could distract your toddler from their meal. Keep any sugary drinks off the table, turn off any nearby televisions, and make sure that any older siblings aren’t running around.
DO trust your child when they say they are full up! It might look like your toddler has barely touched their food, but learn to trust that your little one knows when they’ve eaten enough. Also make sure to give your toddler appropriate portion sizes. Smaller portions will mean that your little one is more likely to finish their meal – and gain a huge sense of accomplishment!
TOP TIP: A serving size for a toddler is about 1/4 of a single portion for an adult. A serving of meat for a one-year-old is about the size of the palm of their hand, and a serving of vegetables is only about 1 or 2 tablespoons.
DO introduce new foods using something your little one already likes. For example, if they love porridge, try adding exciting new ingredients cinnamon and grated carrot. If they are happy to polish off a plate of mashed potatoes, try them on roast potatoes or mashed sweet potato.