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Don’t be surprised if your newly independent toddler stomps his foot and demands his own way. Fussy eating is a hallmark of the toddler years; it’s best to relax and let it run its course. Persevere and continue to offer new foods confidently and positively.

Q: If my toddler flatly refuses a food over and over again, should I give up?
A: Many toddlers are averse to trying new foods, but the good news is that research consistently shows that with perseverance, most will accept them eventually. The trick is to present the food in an enthusiastic manner, so that your toddler associates new tastes with a positive experience, and to continue offering it—in different guises, if necessary—until it becomes “familiar.” If the same zucchini keeps appearing on her plate week after week, she’ll soon lose interest in resisting it, and simply get on with the job of eating.

If your toddler shows a violent dislike to a certain food, gags or vomits when eating it, and refuses it repeatedly, you may want to discuss this with a doctor. You can try to leave that food off the menu for a month or so and then try again. Or, you can change the format of how you serve that particular food to your little one. If she won’t try a scrambled egg, for example, then offer some French toast instead. If the response is the same, don’t push it. It may be a temporary aversion, or something more long-term, and you’ll do no good by forcing her to eat something she genuinely doesn’t like.

Q: My child only likes sweet foods, and won’t eat anything savory. What should I do?
A: There is no doubt that the majority of toddlers prefer sweet tastes, but research indicates that most food and flavor preferences are “learned” rather than “instinctive.” In a nutshell, this means that early experiences with food are important in developing a liking for different tastes. So, don’t give up! Start by blending together sweet and savory—pork with apple purée, for example, or chicken tagine with sweet potato and dried apricots. Choose some naturally sweet savory foods, such as sweet potato, squash, or even red peppers, whose bright colors may also convince him that they are sweeter than they are. Gradually decrease the “sweet” element of the dishes, until he is eating savory foods. Ultimately, however, if you continue to serve just savory foods, he will develop a taste for them.
Q: My toddler will only eat fruit, and no vegetables. How can I encourage better eating habits?
A: Fruit is undoubtedly sweeter and more instantly satisfying than the average vegetable, but it doesn’t supply the full range of vitamins and, in particular, minerals that your child needs. Try mixing fruit with vegetables—couscous with raisins, apricots, sautéed peppers, and onions is a good start. As long as the “fruity” taste is overwhelming, she’ll probably give it a go. Also use both fruit and vegetable juices when cooking savory dishes. Try to use vegetables and fruit together too—a chicken dish with fresh pineapple and dried apricots goes well with water chestnuts and steamed spinach.
Q: How can I stop mealtimes from becoming a battleground?
A: Most toddlers have periods of fussy eating. One reason is that they are asserting their independence and like to have a say in what they do. This can make mealtimes tense for everyone. The most important thing you can do is to try not to make a fuss. If your toddler realizes that you are upset or angry when he doesn’t eat, he’s gained an emotional advantage, which he can play whenever he chooses. If you don’t react, he’ll likely choose a new battle. Continue offering the food you want him to eat, and silently removing the plate when he has eaten (or not eaten) what he wishes. When he realizes that he isn’t going to get a reaction by resisting certain foods, he’ll likely eat them. It’s also a good idea to offer your child choices .
Q: My toddler is a fussy eater. Should I offer supplements?
A: While a healthy, varied diet will provide your toddler with the vitamins and minerals she needs for good health, fussy eating does mean that her diet is limited. For example, a fussy toddler who refuses to eat fruits and vegetables will be missing vitamins and minerals that are essential for her growth and development, as well as her immunity to infections. If she doesn’t eat meat, she may well be low in iron, which will affect her concentration and energy levels, among other things . The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends vitamin supplements for all under-twos, which can help to supply what’s missing, and ease your mind, too. They can never take the place of a healthy diet, but they’re a good stopgap when kids resist our attempts to serve healthy meals. Drop form is best for under-twos.

Breakfast fare

Make breakfast time fun. If your toddler is resistant, offer a range of healthy options, and ask him to choose from them. A little platter with some fruit, a few squares of toast with peanut butter, a boiled egg with soldiers, and a handful of breakfast cereal (see recipe, Honey, Oat, and Raisin Crisp) may tempt him. If necessary, offer a favorite sandwich and some cubes of fruit, or leftover pasta shapes and chicken. Once he becomes accustomed to breakfast, you can revert to more standard fare.

Honey, Oat, and Raisin Crisp

Oats make a good breakfast cereal as they contain slow-burn carbohydrates that help to keep blood sugar levels on an even keel until snack time. Serve this with milk and delicious fresh berries to tempt even the fussiest little eater.

5 minutes

25 minutes

NOTE

About 8 child portions

  • 2 cups rolled oats

  • 2 heaping tbsp dried, unsweetened, shredded coconut

  • Pinch of salt

  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

  • 2 tbsp sunflower or olive oil, plus a little extra for greasing

  • 2 tbsp honey

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

  • 1/3 cup raisins

  • 3 tbsp sunflower seeds (optional)

  • For serving

    • Milk and fresh berries

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

  2. Put the oats in a large bowl and stir in the coconut, salt, and sugar. Whisk together the oil, honey, and vanilla extract and pour this over the oats. Stir until the oats are evenly coated, then spread out in a lightly oiled baking pan.

  3. Bake until golden and crisp, about 25 minutes, stirring several times. Watch carefully toward the end of the cooktime to make sure the oats don’t burn. Let cool in the baking pan, then mix in the raisins and sunflower seeds, if using. Store in an airtight container.

  4. Serve each portion (about 2 tbsp, depending on appetite) with cold milk and topped with berries.

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