How controlling mealtimes may create a fussy eating toddler!

When you’ve sat across from the table from your child night after night, looking at how thin his limbs are, how dis-interested in his food he is, how little he sleeps at night because he’s assumedly hungry. Your natural motherly instinct is to pick up the spoon or fork and coerce, distract or force the food down. Cruel to be kind right? But who finishes satisfied in this battle? You….perhaps temporarily….but your child is starting to develop a reoccurring bad time with food, they can feel your stress, and that ‘control’ that they so angrily try to hold onto some nights has been stripped from them. Sometimes even the ability to say ‘NO that’s enough’ has gone ignored. A very tolerant child will still come to the table, but seek comfort in a pacifier, cuddles or TV just to endure the force feeding. A stubborn child may completely refuse to eat at all, perhaps days on end, living on just milk, junk and packaged foods that they deem as safe and consistent.

If this sounds like you, then you’re certainly not alone. I can recognise a force feeder in just a few short questions when calling clients. Sometimes it takes a child 1 instance to be turned off mealtimes but it normally its due to a reoccurring event.

Relinquishing control of a picky eaters’ appetite and free choice will turn out to be just the first of many times in parent-hood where control needs to be surrendered sooner the better. If it’s something you recognise within yourself, then ask yourself how you’ll react when your child refuses to do homework, kicks and screams going to school, refuse to make friends or participate socially, doesn’t strive for that number 1 position in the spelling bee. Sometimes things are just out of our control and our instinct to force a child to proceed will deepen the issue and develop distrust issues with you, the parent, the one who they depend on for comfort, support and protection.

Thankfully the younger the child is, the easier it is to erase and paste newer, happier memories around mealtimes for fussy eating toddlers. Pick your battles but know your battlefield first. You have the choice of what food to supply at mealtimes but you do not, not in any circumstances have the right to choose what goes into the child’s mouth.

Tips if you’re a control freak at mealtimes:

  • Remove all anxiety around mealtimes by shaking out your sillies before a meal. Yep, it’s actually in my programs, a fussy toddler dance-off in the loungeroom 10 minutes prior to the meal being ready. An elevated mood is hungrier for food than a worrisome one and it helps to calm the parents too. Try it, you’ll see!
  • Change up the seating arrangements and eat meals in different places, at the park, in the garden, picnic in the loungeroom etc.
  • Change the way you serve the food for fussy eaters. Meat and 2 veg looks a whole lot more appealing when it’s revealed in little surprise bowls with lids rather than little piles on a plate.
  • Carefully observe the serving sizes, often I get clients to take photos of their meals and it will be fit for an adult. This will overwhelm a fussy child who is afraid of food. Their stomachs are as big as their clenched fist, so on a completely empty stomach a child will be full on just half a cup of food.
  • Last but not least, eat meals with the child as often as possible. You are your child’s teacher, they learn what is safe from you, showing them that food is fun to enjoy is key to having happier eaters.
  • Ask permission to feed a child, asking ‘would you like mummy to help you’ gives them the control and comfort in knowing you have their safety and personal comfort considered.

There’s always the next meal in succession. Kids are born with the ability to feel hunger and self nourish, it’s a natural instinct. Toddlers will seemingly graze for a few days or weeks on end then gorge for an entire day. Recognise these days and seize the moment by offering food at every opportunity. I have myself a fussy toddler who is a grazer, he’s 3 and a half. 2 or so mouthfuls of breakfast and distracted by something else, same with lunch, perhaps a handful of sultanas then nothing until his afternoon fruit comes out and perhaps only 1 or two pieces, evening meals are always a challenge. What do I do in this situation? I mealplan! I do it every week, it releases the stress and wonder that last minute outings cause. I have it so well planned that the kids eat a portion, or a de-constructed version of what we ate the previous night so that I can shake my sillies while the oven or micro is re-heating.

Meal Plan Template for Fussy Eating Toddlers

If you have a picky toddler between the age of 1 and 3 and would like a copy of my meal plan template which includes recommended portions, food groups and serving sizes according to the Australian dietary guidelines, please get in touch with me at or alternatively email [email protected].

Do you need help getting your child to sustain a healthy diet? are mealtimes a battle or have you given up the fight? Our online therapy courses will be launched to the public on the 1st of August. There’s a course for all ages and types of Little Fusspots. Click here to watch a sneak peak of the course, also fill in your details in the enrolment section to receive updates and early-bird discount codes.