Logo Healthier Mummy
Fun fruit dessert for children

What to do when your toddler refuses to eat

The transition from baby to toddler is the start of a whole new life as a parent. Suddenly, it’s all about the 4 Ps – playgroups, pull-ups, potties and, er, pickiness at meal times.  

I’m going to talk more about this picky eating for the next stage of my Organix No Junk Journey.

Before toddler life struck, it had all been going so swimmingly for me when it came to feeding. My first baby loved all the purées and finger food on offer: big grins all around. What’s all this fuss about fussy eaters, I remember wondering. After all, my baby ate everything! Those parents were doing something wrong.

And then my first-born turned one. And, just as though a switch had been flicked, my happy eater started refusing food. ‘No thanks, I’m not eating THAT rubbish,’ she showed me. (The grimace gave it away. Ok, and the food throwing.)

It happened with my second and third baby too. My kids seemed to develop a particular aversion to anything green and gloopy – for example, standard pasta pesto was horrific, apparently. And vegetables became a problem for my youngest.

The good news? It’s all normal behaviour for a toddler.

Almost every child discovers a fear of new food when they become toddlers – it’s called neophobia, and it’s children’s inbuilt and evolutionary defence to protect them once they’re on the move from eating foods that might be dangerous to their health. Irritatingly, you might also find that they become picky about food you’ve served many times before if it looks a bit different in some way.

Luckily, it’s a phase. Neophobia tends to peak at about 18 months, according to a report by the Infant and Toddler Forum, although it can be more extreme for others and go on for much longer. These kids will grow out of it after a few years.

My eldest was in and out of the picky eating phase fastest, the other two took longer. And my youngest is still wallowing from time to time. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  1. Don’t EVER EVER go and make an alternative meal

    This is a tough one but it’s important that you sit on your hands if your toddler doesn’t want the meal that’s on offer. They may be only little now, but it won’t be long before they realise, ‘Hang on, if I make a fuss, Mummy goes and makes toast. And I’d much rather eat toast than even taste this chicken curry stuff.’ I learnt this the hard way and had to retrain myself and my kids. It took a while and some tears. Best not to get sucked down that hole.

  2. Be matter-of-fact

    This is dinner. That’s broccoli. End of.

  3. Try not to make a fuss

    I know that this is really hard after your child has refused another evening meal. But they won’t die. Really. And you need to show that you don’t mind at all that they’ve refused that stew that you spent hours cooking last night. When you could have been watching Westworld instead.

  4. Eat with them (and show you’re enjoying it)

    You don’t need to go on too much about it. There’s no need for example to say, ‘Ah, this is the best meal I’ve ever eaten and I think I’ve gone to heaven.’ Just look as though it’s tasty.

  5. Make sure they come to the meal a little hungry

    Yes, toddlers need a few snacks to help them get through the day. But they also need to feel hungry enough to be willing to eat at dinner. I think it’s just about balance.

  6. Do a few twiddly things to make unfamiliar food look more interesting

    If you have any energy, you can have a go at tinkering around with food to make a fun display, like the kiwi fruit palm tree on the plate in the picture. Be kind to yourself though – when mine were toddlers, I’d often had the kind of day when I really didn’t want to go all Blue Peter about food.

  7. Help them be a mealtime adventurer – but in a safe way

    Position the new food on their plate alongside the familiar – for example, I would try putting leek next to fish fingers and peas. At snack time, point them towards something new. Organix Goodies makes lots of healthy, junk-free snacks in a range of flavours and for every moment.

    Keep looking for more ways to encourage your children to try new foods. Your child may just surprise you. And remember it’s only a phase.

    But if you’re worried, or your child is losing weight, then definitely book an appointment with your GP. Good luck!

    This post has been sponsored by Organix for their No Junk Journey, but all views are my own.
    Organix No Junk Journey logo
    Find out about the Organix No Junk Promise at #NoJunkJourney




Read more:

6 ways to get your kids to try new foods
How to sneak vegetables into packed lunches
Ever feel angry with your children? 10 coping strategies to help you defuse

Comments (8)

  • Avatar

    Penny Alexander


    These are fab tips and I think they probably apply to kids of all ages!

  • Avatar

    Fozia S


    Some great tips. My eldest was an OK eater but now at 10 years old she is so fussy!!

  • Avatar

    JuggleMum, Nadine Hill


    Ah yes – my son went all ‘brick wall’ on me as a toddler – even though my eldest was a great eater and still eats everything. I like the tip about ‘don’t ever make an alternative meal’, I wish I’d have stuck to that:-(

  • Avatar



    I still do hide some veg in tomato sauces! My son says he doesn’t like broccoli but doesn’t know the chopped up stalk goes in the pasta sauce I make!

  • Avatar

    Jen Walshaw


    Some fantastic tips there. I think all toddlers and children go through a phase where all they want is beige food!

  • Avatar

    Kara Guppy


    My 3 year old is quite good with food – it is my 8 year old that is the faddy eater

  • Avatar

    Nell (the Pigeon Pair and Me)


    It’s reassuring to know that kids grow out of being picky. Mine are 4 and 6, and still turn their noses up at the most inoffensive foods…

  • Avatar

    Kate Williams


    Until my youngest turned one she would literally just want a plate of green veg for dinner and then – BAM – the toddler years struck and it’s now insane pickiness. Thank you for the reminder to just try and ride it out!

Comments are closed