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My toddler is making dinner time miserable - please help

(42 Posts)
Solar99 Mon 25-Jul-16 17:43:38


My DD is 2 next week. I'm a SAHM and make all food from scratch. I'm also a massive foodie myself and I eat and huge range of foods - there is virtually nothing except a very very small number of things I won't eat. And even then if I was at a dinner party I'd eat whatever I was given regardless to be polite. I grew up in a house where my own father was mega fussy and because of that the whole household had to endure boring limited food. Because of this background it's really important to me that my own children experience a range of foods, are open minded to trying new things and most importantly grow up knowing the difference between healthy and bad processed food.

I've always rotated what I have cooked for my DD. I change the menu every week so that she doesn't get used to the same dishes. Except to my sadness she's becoming more and more fussy. It's making me dread meal times. My husband works away for weeks at a time - I'm making the effort to cook all these different healthy dishes and she's outrightly refusing 90% of them. Sometimes the things she loves she'll suddenly refuse.

I also can't decided if I'm being unreasonable in some of the things I would hope she would eat. She now walks into the kitchen and before I can even put her plate in front of her she'll say "urgh not nice" and starts to pull faces at the food. After a full day on my own with her, day in day out, it's really starting to get to me. I end up in tears sometimes because of it.

I've tried not giving her an alternative but she's refusing so much food these days that would mean she'd end up hardly eating at all.

Friends tell me what she will eat is relatively healthy but I think it's very narrow. It also means I also have to eat a limited range of foods and that makes me depressed because I can't start changing the entire household diet to suit her.

Her is what she will eat 90% of the time:
plain steak
chicken if in gravy
cream cheese
any kind of bread
any kind of fruit
sometimes roasted carrots but it HAS to be roasted
natural joghurt
pasta in cheese
pasta on it's own
bolognese sauce
rice cakes

Here is what she won't eat:
any vegetables which are not mentioned above (so hardly any!)
potatoes in any form ( no chips, mash, roast, nothing)
any fish
anything in a pie
baked beans
fish fingers (I rarely offer her junk food but in desperation when I have she won't eat it anyway)

At the moment I basically scratch my head every day to decide what to cook for dinner. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed dinner. All the joy has one from it. It goes like this - I spend 1 hour cooking something that most people would say is delicious, she walks in and tells me it's not nice, she screams throughout dinner so I can barely eat myself, she continues whinging, I sometimes give her an alternative like a rice cake with humous on it. Then she'll have joghurt with fruit for dessert. Then I spend ages washing up all the things I used to make the dinner from scratch which she never eats. I wonder why I bother.

I'm so depressed. Has anyone ever had a toddler who was fussy with food then started to miraculously try more things?

Lovelongweekends Mon 25-Jul-16 17:48:39

That doesn't sound fussy to me, it's about the same as my dd eats (she's also 2). I made us all a lovely roast yesterday and she just ate the broccoli! You may be expecting too much too young - just keep offering her a wide range of food and her palate will grow as she does.

Haggisfish Mon 25-Jul-16 17:52:22

Doesn't sound unusual and your toddler eats a fine range of food. Think you're projecting your issues on them.

SusanAndBinkyRideForth Mon 25-Jul-16 17:52:36

It's a phase. In fact there is some research to suggest that restricting food choices at an age when children are starting to wander off more is an evolutionary survival trait. Also children of this age really like repetition and familiar routines. Including eating tge same bloody dinner for weeks on end.grin

It's a phase though and will pass. smile

OhPuddleducks Mon 25-Jul-16 17:53:21

I do! Massively fussy eater who will now give most things a go (and likes a fair amount of them). I have no idea what changed for her. A couple of months ago she just started trying new things.

But (brace yourself) .... She's nearly 5.

monkeywithacowface Mon 25-Jul-16 17:54:49

Doesn't sound fussy at all. You're way over thinking it and making it harder than it needs to be. I was very fussy as a child but pretty much eat anything now. My own two started out fussy but have gradually expanded their tastes.

Timeforabiscuit Mon 25-Jul-16 18:01:57

Thats actually pretty good going! Getting a child to eat olives is nigh on miraculous in my book!

Id carry on making family meals you enjoy with a side or "desert" (fruit and yoghurt) thats fairly fail safe, tiny portions and them helping themselves are the winners here rather than one large plate of food. Also a zero reaction to i dont like it or not hungry.

It is tough but youre actually doing well!

WannaBe Mon 25-Jul-16 18:02:04

She's two. Being fussy is what two year olds do, but you need to pick your battles, because the more of an issue you make of mealtimes, the more she will develop issues around food, when actually what you want is the opposite.

So firstly, for a week, keep a diary of everything she eatS. Not just mealtimes but other times in general as well. Once you have been through the week you will have a balanced knowledge of everything that she is/isn't prepared to eat.

After that, plan your mealtimes with her partly in mind, but also taking into account Your own tastes. It is possible to adapt to differing tastes without having to cook two separate meals. So e.g. If you're having steak and you want chips, cook yourself the chips and cook her a serving of pasta. It makes no difference if she's having steak and pasta rather than chips, she'll eat it after all.

And ignore the bad behaviour, reward the good. So, make sure you put at least two things she will eat on her plate, along with maybe one thing that she might not. For everything that she does* eat give her a sticker, with an end goal in sight. Everything she doesn't eat remove without comment at the end of the meal, with no offer of anything else. And ignore the screaming. If she learns she gets attention or something else by doing it you are giving her an incentive to keep doing it. If she learns that screaming will get her meal removed at the end of the mealtime and she won't get anything else then she will learn quickly that A, if she screams she gets nothing, B, if she eats something she will get a reward I.e. A sticker/praise, and C, if she eats something new she will get extra praise/stickers. And have an end goal in sight, I.e. Ten stickers will earn her a (non edible) treat.

And bear in mind that it is unlikely she will starve. If she is the kind of child who will go hungry for meal after meal then there are other tactics you can try, but most children will learn very quickly that food is for eating and enjoying and that failing to do so makes one hungry. And I speak as the child who would have starved rather than eat something I didn't like. Good luck...

jelliebelly Mon 25-Jul-16 18:03:45

That sounds like a normal 2 year old really - not particularly fussy imo. You are really over thinking this - it's exactly why my two dc used to eat at teatime and dh & I ate later! Mine are 10 and 7 now so we generally all eat together but I must admit it is us who have modified our tastes somewhat. Makes eating out as a couple more of a treat!

LadyintheRadiator Mon 25-Jul-16 18:06:14

My advice would be to just ride it out, keep offering a variety but accept that this is a stage some children go through - it can be long and boring but usually passes. My DS was just awful as a toddler but from about 5 onwards he got better and better (just as my younger one started the fussy phase hmm)

Normandy144 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:07:33

It's a long game. Don't take it personally and don't pander to her (too much). You need to keep exposing her to things even if you know she will flatly refuse. Our DD is 3.3 and has had an aversion to sweet potato in any form and rice for about a year now. She still gets served it on occasion and still sniffs at it. She always says 'yuk' and my stock response is 'you don't have to eat anything on your plate if you don't want to, but this is all there is for dinner'. Pudding is at our discretion and we try not to use it as a bribe. I think if you aim for 4 or 5 partially or fully acceptable meals a week then that's a good bench mark.

Solar99 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:10:49

Oh my gosh - thank you all for replying. I feel better already. In my head I know she eats enough of the right kind of things but I seem to be surrounded by friend's toddlers who will eat pretty much anything that is put in front of them. I watch them and they tuck in without even looking at what their fist just grabbed, whilst my DD is busy inspecting every item vocally and then makes a drama by sticking the tip of her tongue on the food and saying 'yucky' before it's even touched her lips. So draining.

It 'feels' as though she is fussy because whenever we got out anywhere to eat it's always me, and not other mothers, having to desperately find something on a menu she WILL eat.

She's refused fish now for 12 months - when she was 10 months old she used to eat lots of seabass and salmon. It's such an easy quick meal to make her but she won't touch fish now. It's also really hard when she won't eat potatoe in ANY form. She wouldn't even have it when she was first weaned.

I am also a teacher and I've taken lots of primary school children away on residentials over the years. Oh my gosh the horror stories due to the kids who were fussy eaters - it was embarrassing. One boy had an epic hissy fit in the large dining hall in front of about 6 other schools, he never thanked the chefs and he sulked unless he was given cold sweetcorn and ham at EVERY MEAL. I'm so scared she'll be that child.

calzone Mon 25-Jul-16 18:11:25

My ds once had egg and beans for 3 weeks.....every meal, basically.....he grew so bored of it, he began eating off my plate and tried different things.

He eats everything now.

Don't sweat too much over it but also don't go to too much trouble either.

AchyMcAcherson Mon 25-Jul-16 18:11:33

I'm about to host a sleepover for my dsd and her friend. Dsd will eat most things, the friend, on the other hand only eats nuggets, chips (only thin ones), KFC, pizza (cheese & tomato only) and coco pops (dry). That's it. She won't eat anything else. She's 10.
By comparison your toddler is a gourmet with wide ranging tastes. I really wouldnt worry too much. Make dinners which are loosely based around the things she will eat and if you fancy something else then give her rice cakes instead.
Don't make a big deal about it. While I was three I ate Heinz macaroni cheese from a tin almost exclusively for about a year. Nowadays ill eat near enough anything.
Please don't worry too much.

Solar99 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:14:59

I also hesitate to tell people she'll eat olives because everyone is always impressed with that one as though it doesn't make her fussy lol. She's eaten olives since being tiny (cut up of course!).

Teapot13 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:17:37

It doesn't't seem too bad to me. It's common for kids to become fussy around 2. Ellyn Satter has great strategies for dealing with it. She has a lot of books -- I used The Secret to Feeding A Healthy Family, I think.

sevent Mon 25-Jul-16 18:17:53

Sounds me to like she has a fabulous diet! My DS2 is 5, and eats no veg at all, only strawberries and bananas, but no other fruit, fish fingers and no other meat, and various plain bread/potato products that are deemed acceptable, he won't have anything with a sauce, and only drinks ribena or milk which is a PITA at school. I just dish him up the same as his brother making sure he has at least one item on his plate he will eat, with no comment about what he won't touch. His only rule is he has to leave it on his plate not move it onto the table lol. If you stress about it and make it into a drama, that's when it will blow up into a real issue because they learn from us what is worth getting anxious about.

PurpleWithRed Mon 25-Jul-16 18:18:19

I was also shocked and upset that my two were fussy eaters - I'm a good cook and love my food. FWIW there are plenty of things they refused at 2 that they still hate the taste of now - so at least I know it was genuine dislike and not just a power play.

Lots of good advice above, but the main thing is just to accept that your daughter does not have the same food tastes as you do and move on. Think of a food you hate - if she made you try it again and again how would you feel about her and mealtimes and food? The more you relax the safer she will feel around food and the safer she will feel trying new foods.

Heatherbell1978 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:22:16

Wow I wish my 2 year old ate that variety of food! DH and I are also good eaters and I'm a pretty good cook. But I've learned not to let it bother me. He's at nursery 3 days a week where he eats everything apparently and he eats well at my mums. He's just so easily distracted at home and not that interested in food but I know if he's hungry he'll eat. I still cook from scratch most of the time but don't slave over a stove for him as much these days. Choose your battles as they say. There are days he literally eats nothing but he looks fine, in the right clothes sizes and has bags of energy!

Solar99 Mon 25-Jul-16 18:23:37

PurpleWith Red - you are so right. Thank you. x

T0ddlerSlave Mon 25-Jul-16 18:41:09

DD is 2.5 and I'm sure I've not got the end of fussy eating but she was particularly bad around 2. She stopped eating a lot of food inc bread, broccoli and cucumber. She's eating them all again now and more besides.

Is she hungry at dinner time? We moved dinner an hour later and restricted snacks more and she's much less likely to pick (eg eating bolognaise sauce not just the bit that sticks to the pasta).

snowman1 Mon 25-Jul-16 19:11:19

I think the rule of being two is that the more effort you put into making the food, the less they enjoy it? Toast and butter? scoffed. homemade pie and roasted veg with pesto and lentils? they eat nothing of it.

I am like you, love cooking, absolutely hate waste, but I decided that being emotionally invested in what they ate was the road to me being really unhappy. They might be just 2, but they know even at this age if it means a great deal to you if they eat or not.

I have just a small number of rules: dinner is dinner, they will always have 2/4 things on the plate that they will like. So no comments about what they will or will not eat, (yuck, etc) but they are expected to sit nicely even if they don't eat anything and ask to leave the table. No replacement dinners or any snacks after, either. I try and focus on talking to them rather than commenting on what they haven't tried. I just hate it when I have friends over and they spend the whole time cajoling the kids to eat more it's so stressful to listen to.

I guess you need to decide if you would rather make mealtimes sociable and stress-free rather than a battle of wills.

Gulia Enders wrote an excellent book called "Gut" which talks about how we are just exploring how the head and food is interlinked, food that is eaten when you are relaxed and happy is almost certainly better digested (but they are still beginning to explore this). Anyone who has dealt with a hungry, tired, thirsty toddler knows instinctively that all of these things are linked together!

What I would say though about my 2 is they definitely know when to stop and will leave half a biscuit. I found myself having thai food the other week and to my surprise they tried and liked it! So it does take time, and I think they will get there eating more things. We went to a greek restaurant yesterday and they were relaxed, tried things and I never thought I would say this a couple of years ago but I had a nice time in a restaurant with them. (6 and 3)

Remember your health and happiness is really important too. What is interesting in your post is you bringing all this stuff , literally, to the table, from your family's history into an explanation of your 2 year old being fussy, a stage which many (but not all) 2 year olds go through.

Try and keep it all positive, try a marble jar for trying new things, working towards a reward like a sticker book, pyjama morning, small toy or DVD from the library. A change of scene can help too, I sometimes cook dinner, pack it into tupperware and take it to the park with a picnic blanket.
one other thing is you can include in the "trying new things" a bit of cake or dessert, so that they know it isn't always going to be asparagus or cabbage and they might trust you a bit more!

And don't take it personally! They will come round, they might not, but you being stressed isn't helping anyone especially you!

icklekid Mon 25-Jul-16 20:53:37

My 2 year old is similar and I have cried about how frustrating it is. He was so easy to wean but now it's like he needs the control...

I keep offering a range of veg even if he rejects and then suppliment with hidden veg in sauces like this$ja=tsid:59156|cid:189942085|agid:18091972165|tid:aud-158518126633:pla-96719803405|crid:77627772685|nw:g|rnd:9849653420470694657|dvc:m|adp:1o1&gclid=CjwKEAjw8da8BRDssvyH8uPEgnoSJABJmwYoRlm3S1W428zpbibSRHPD47O3xOzcGaZBxj2ATrw-axoCKITw_wcB

doing Mon 25-Jul-16 21:00:14

"I'm a foodie" puts me on immediate alert that you're over invested.

Food is fuel, put it out, don't make it over fussy, she eats it or she doesn't. If she doesn't, chuck it in the bin and move on.

The end.

icklekid Mon 25-Jul-16 21:01:22

Sorry wrong link

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