Top tips for fussy toddlers

In the First 1000 Days, what your toddler eats can have a big influence on their future development including their brain development.

But what if your toddler suddenly starts being fussy and refuses the foods you give them?

Well don’t stress, it is perfectly normal for toddlers to go through their ‘fussy eating phase’ at some stage. Mealtimes during these times can become a bit of a nightmare for you and your toddler, with lots of tantrums and frustration. Fortunately, most toddlers grow out of their fussy eating phase and normal mealtimes are eventually restored!

If the problem persists, speak to your public health nurse or GP. They will be able to check your child’s growth and development and give you further advice on how to overcome your toddler’s fussy eating.

Why do some toddlers not eat?


Your toddler may refuse foods when they are:

  • Sick
  • Tired
  • In a bad mood/grumpy
  • If they are being scolded
  • If they are being force-fed when they have had enough to eat
  • Too full from drinks they had throughout the day
  • Feeling upset, lonely, or anxious (for example if they are away from home)
  • Constipated
  • Anaemic — as low iron levels can decrease your little one’s appetite
  • Exerting their independence or looking for attention

If your toddler associates a particular food with a bad experience they may refuse it — for example if there was a particular food they may have had at a time they were sick or a particular food they may have had when they were away from home and from you. They tend to grow out of this later in childhood so don’t get worked up about it.

How to Manage Your Toddler’s Fussy Eating



Offer your toddler a variety of foods and tastes.

Offer 2-3 healthy snacks in between meal times such as fruit, vegetable sticks and hummus, cheese on crackers, and yoghurts.

Offer iron-rich foods throughout the day such as red meat, poultry, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals, fortified milks, dark green leafy vegetables.

Give a mixture of white and wholegrain breads — too much wholegrain foods are too filling for your toddler.

Praise your toddler when they finish their meal or try a new food.

Include them in food preparation and food shopping.

Make meal times more fun using colourful plates, having a picnic, or having dinner outside.

Eat together as a family and make mealtimes relaxed, happy occasions.

Offer 6 -8 drinks per day (about 120ml each) per day. Water is the best choice and 3oomls of their milk is sufficient during the day.

Give drinks from a beaker/cup instead of a bottle.

Remove uneaten food without comment.

Keep calm.


Force-feed your toddler as your toddler will eat according to their appetite.

Allow grazing on foods — stick to 3 main meals and 2-3 healthy snacks in-between.

Shout at your toddler at mealtimes as they will associate mealtimes this.

Offer foods high in sugars such as sweets and sugary drinks.

Let your child hear you talking about how fussy they are.

Give your toddler too many drinks throughout the day as they will fill them up too much and they will not be hungry for their meals.

Give your toddler tea or coffee as these will reduce the amount of iron they absorb from food.

Add salt, gravy, or sauces to your toddler’s foods to make them more appealing as they contain too much salt.

Use sweets or snacks as a reward because this will make these foods seem more desirable to your toddler.

First 1000 Days Team

Our expert team of dietitians and nutritionists have created lots of articles, tips, advice and recipes all about the importance of good nutrition to help you give your baby the healthiest possible start in life.

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