Ask Aspen: What do I offer my toddler if they just want sweets and won’t eat anything else?

 
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It’s very common for children between 18 months and 3 years to become fussy eaters, but it’s really important to consider this from an evolutionary perspective.

Science tells us that we are born with a preference for sweet flavours over sour and bitter. Why? Because sweet foods gave us energy, white sour and bitter foods were generally found in poisonous plants. Now you’re probably thinking “how on earth does this relate to my toddler?” Simple, your toddler may be rejecting bitter/ sour tasting foods, such as broccoli and spinach, because part of their brain is telling them it might be dangerous.

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 So how do you help your toddler learn these foods are safe to eat?

  • Model eating the foods you want them to eat. Think about evolution again. A lion cub won’t eat food until its mother eats first, to make sure the food is safe. In just the same way, if you’re not eating a food, your child probably won’t eat it because it might not be safe.

  • Don’t completely restrict sweets. Research tells us that restricting foods high in sugar increases children’s preference and consumption of these foods when made available to them. Also, it’s believed that childhood preferences for sweet food is related to the bodies nutritional requirements needed during growth spurts.

  • Always offer or serve at least one food you know they like on their plate. This has been shown to increase the chances they will try and like unknown foods also being offered.

  • Be persistent. Continue offering different foods to your child, even if they don’t eat it. Evidence shows that it takes up to ten exposures to a food for a child to even try it, and another ten for them to decide whether they actually like it or not, so DON’T GIVE UP!

Instead of giving them highly processed sugary foods, offer them a sweet snack that still has nutritional value, such as:

  • Natural yoghurt sweetened with fruit or honey

  • Homemade bliss balls loaded with nuts or seeds

  • A variety of fruit

  • Home made muffins or cookies that taste sweet, yet still have nutritional value, such as my orange and chia muffins (recipe coming soon)

  • Banana oat pancakes

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Hi, I’m Aspen, a university qualified teacher and nutritionist. As one of seven kids, a mum and ten years teaching experience, I understand just how challenging mealtimes can be. That’s why I’m so passionate about giving families a range of strategies to reduce fussy eating and make mealtimes an enjoyable family experience. I also work with schools doing incursions, parent information sessions and canteen menu assessment.