The Mediterranean approach: How to stop fussy-eating toddlers in their tracks

Posted in Fussy Eating.

To live in a household where the whole family eats the same meal together is the stuff of dreams for many parents.

Claire, mum to a fussy three-year-old knows this all too well. Out of ideas, Claire contacted mothercraft nurse Chris Minogue through our weekly live Helpline.

Marshmallows all ’round

“My three-year-old toddler is having meltdowns over new food. I’m trying to engage him with joining the family for dinner,” Claire says. 

She’s tried including her son in meal preparation, including menu planning “except when he says marshmallows” – of course!

“I think he’s nervous about new foods; is fussy but also dinner may be turning into a power struggle. He is very unhappy about sitting down at dinner time and would rather be running around if we don’t give him alternative foods for dinner other than what is on his plate,” Claire explains. “He wakes up in the night complaining of being hungry. Any suggestions?”

Read more about fussy eating: 

First things first

Firstly, Chris says this behaviour is typical for many toddlers. Secondly, Claire’s son is at a stage where he’s pushing the boundaries set for him. That said, it’s also worth making sure he hasn’t overeaten throughout the day.  

And, while it’s the parents’ job to provide the right types of food for their little one in the right timeframe, it’s up to him to eat it.

“Feed him off the family diet by putting one or two things on the plate that he recognises and that he likes to entice him to sit down, and I think it’s about giving him the opportunity to taste them. It’s up to him whether he eats some or not,” Chris explains.

She adds: “So our job as a parent is to make sure we feed them – that we give them the right food, in the right timeframe, in the right amounts. It’s their job to eat it, so if they’re not going to eat it, that’s fine. Don’t get too worked up about that, and if he’s hungry in the middle of the night, give him a drink of water and tell him breakfast will be at 6am.”

“Put everything on the table”

Kinderling Helpline host, Shevonne Hunt, echoes Chris’ advice for fussy eaters.

“Dr Jennifer Cohen, who’s also known as The Fussy Eating Doctor …  what she says about the family meal is where you put everything on the table regardless of what it is, and they can serve themselves,” Shevonne says. “She recommends that for fussy eaters, and exactly what Chris is saying, if they don’t want to eat it, they don’t put it on their plates.”

The Mediterranean way

“It’s actually how the Mediterraneans feed their families,” Chris adds. “I’ve done loads of work overseas, and the Mediterraneans just put everything on the table, and the child can eat the whole bowl of anchovies, if he feels like it. They don’t put extra children’s food on the table; they just put the meal down and let them navigate through the table.” 

Bon appétit!


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