FAQ: Please help! My toddler only eats cereal or yoghurt for dinner.

By : | 1 Comment | On : March 9, 2015 | Category : Blog, Fussy Eaters, Tips & Tricks

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Do you have a baby or toddler who will only eat one or two things for dinner each night and refuses everything else? 

Sometimes, the answer to your problem is over a coffee with a friend, posting the question in an online mother’s group, or secret forum. A fellow mummy with experience can often provide that little bit of wisdom, the glimmer of hope that you have been looking for or at the very least, a new idea to try.

We certainly don’t have all the answers. So these FAQ blog posts are to be seen like this…  if our closest friends were to ask our advice, these would be our answers. But don’t let it stop with us, If you have an idea that might help others, we would love to hear it. Leave a comment after this post, or join our Facebook page to talk to other parents.

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Q: Hi, my very fussy 19 month old refuses to eat his dinner. He only wants Weetbix or yoghurt, which I often give him to ensure his appetite is satisfied before bed. I have been trying to offer a wide variety of foods but I am becoming very disheartened and unmotivated to keep this up. Especially when my cooking and hard work end up in the bin most nights. Any tips or suggestions would be very welcome! Thanks. – Michelle, SA.

A. Hi Michelle,

We feel for you, food refusal is extremely stressful for both the parent and child.

Firstly, to help reassure you a little it is very common for toddlers to display some kind of fussy eating and food refusal behaviour.  However, if it becomes to the detriment of their development and/or nutrition it is important to seek help and guidance so well done in acknowledging this. Without knowing more details about your personal situation and your little man’s health we can only provide suggestions of a general nature that may help with food refusal rather than individualised advice. For individualised advice we highly recommend seeking out a referral to a dietitian or speech pathologist trained in the SOS Approach to Feeding.

It is important to think about what other foods he accepts and enjoys throughout the day. If he enjoys a variety of nutritious foods at breakfast, lunch or snacks you can use these foods to help improve the quality and acceptance of his evening meal.   The timing of his meals and snacks may also influence his food refusal. Try to make sure snacks are at least 1 hour away from meal times to ensure he has an appetite for his main meal. This may need to be longer in your case, particularly before dinner.

It is clear he has learnt by refusing food he will be offered a preferred meal of weetbix or yoghurt and is holding out for this. Changing this practice and no longer offering this option often helps to encourage acceptance of refused food. It is important to communicate the change in routine before you begin in order to reduce his stress and anxiety. If he does refuse this meal and reports he is hungry later on, simply re-offer the refused food. There will be some protests but if you are persistent, consistent and provide him with reassurance he will quickly learn and you will certainly make progress.

Here are a few other tips and tricks that may help:

  • When introducing new or previously refused foods, always offer a familiar and accepted food at the same time. e.g. even a small portion of yoghurt or weetbix on a tasting plate 
  • Allow your little boy to play with his food, particularly new foods.  It helps them to learn about the food
  • Don’t expect them to try or eat something new the very first time it is offered to them
  • It is normal to be wary of new tastes, textures and flavours. Continue to offer foods again and again, they need to taste a food 10-20 times before you can accept they don’t like it
  • Shop, prepare and eat new foods with your toddler. Sometimes the very act of you eating the same food can make a huge difference to his acceptance of a new food
  • Make meal times relaxing, choose a fun & stimulating activity to do before meal times.

We hope this has helped and provided you with some strategies that may encourage acceptance and enjoyment of all your delicious home cooked food. However if you are at all concerned about the nutritional adequacy of your child’s diet, his food refusal persists or are worried about his growth progress please consult your medical practitioner, an Accredited Practising Dietitian or child and family health nurse. Good luck, OHCs -x

More on Food Refusal

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Don’t forget to read our disclaimer.  If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding the nutritional adequacy of your child’s diet or their health and wellbeing please consult a medical practitioner or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) for individualised advice.

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  1. posted by Sally Kesby on March 21, 2015

    Struggling big time with getting my toddler to eat. He is 22 months. Refuses pasta or anything soft. Which means no vege. Won’t eat meat either. We have now stopped bottles and now I can’t get him to drink any milk. Sometimes will have a sip of a flavoured straw in milk or a little bit of smoothie but that’s it. I can not remember the last time he ate dinner. Every single night I give him a variety of meat and vege and sometimes rices or pastas. Never touches it. Can’t even get him to play with it. As a baby he hated messy play and I could never get him interested in playing with his food. Can’t get him to even try things. The only thing he eats at dinner is BBQ sauce if I resort to giving it to him. He eats Cheerios cereal (dry) for breakfast with a slice of cheese and a small price of Vegemite toast. Is offered a cup of milk but never drinks it. Won’t eat fresh fruit. Will eat custard so I mix in purées fruit so he at least gets some. Have tried progressing with fruit size in his custard and he just spits it out. Eats snacks all morning – how can I say no to food when I know he’s had next to nothing since the day before? Have tried refusing snacks but we have major tamtrum battles, he’s very stubborn! What should I do?

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