I'm a baby-feeding expert – how to stop table tantrums, food throwing and fussy eaters

DINNERTIME when you have toddlers can be a nightmare, but there are some ways to stop tantrums and fussy eating.

Baby and child nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reed has revealed eight common table dilemmas with kids, and exactly how you can solve them.

Speaking to Fabulous, Charlotte, who is speaking at The Baby Show at London Excel in March, said: “Dinner time is often a time where EVERYONE is a bit tired and fed up. 

“For toddlers it’s nearing bedtime and a time when really they need to ‘wind down’ at home.

“Tiredness can hugely affect behaviours and appetite. 

“If they had a substantial snack or 'tea' just before you’re sitting them down to eat a large meal, they may not be able to communicate with you that they simply aren’t hungry and it may come out in tears, food refusal or a tantrum.”

Here are eight common struggles parents have at dinnertime and how to overcome them…

1) Food Refusal

The number ONE thing that parents come to me about. 

It’s important to realise that refusing foods and appetite fluctuations are completely normal for toddlers, so sometimes it’s just about riding it out and trying not to change up what you’ve always done and offered to your little one. 

Eating together can help for sure as can taking the pressure off “eating” and just focusing on making the mealtime a pleasant experience.  

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2) Throwing food

This is also so very common, and normally comes at a time when babies and toddlers are “experimenting” with the world and gravity! 

It’s part of their learning, but can be very frustrating for parents. 

It’s best not to draw too much attention to the throwing as it can make it more likely to occur. 

You can offer a “side plate” for unwanted foods instead and explain “that’s not what we do with foods” aside from that, refrain from commenting too much and simply role model! 

3) Overtiredness

This is a big killer of appetites at mealtimes. 

We’ve all done it. But an overtired baby likely won’t have the energy (and even the ability, as eating is a tough skill for some kids) or will to eat. 

Try and figure out a mealtime routine that works for your toddler so that they are alert, rested and ready for the meal. 

Sometimes this takes some trial and error and may need adjusting as they age.  

4) Distractions 

Feeding your little one whilst they can see other food, other toys or even the TV can completely distract them from the process and experience of eating. 

Mealtimes should be set times where our little ones focus on food and so it’s ideal to differentiate meals from play time by clearing away play activities and having mealtimes distraction free, as much as possible.  

5) Refusing veggies

Most little ones will go through phases of refusing vegetables at some point in their childhood. 

It’s very normal and is normally just a case of them developing autonomy and showing some independence in their choices.

Again the advice for this comes back to – don’t draw undue attention to them refusing these foods, role model eating them yourselves, pretend you’re not bothered if they are eaten or not, keep offering them regularly and avoid pressures to eat them. 

Drawing attention to veg refusal, pressuring them to eat them up or stopping offering them will likely lead to more veg refusal!  

6) Using their hands

This comes down to two things – increased efficiency in eating and “experimenting” with food. 

Whilst they are young it’s fine to let them experiment with their hands and eating, but it’s good to keep encouraging use of cutlery so that, eventually they do it without thinking. 

Role modelling, keep on offering and supporting them with cutlery use when needed can all help. 

Just remember it’s normal for them to default to their hands, and don’t put the pressure on them or yourself.  

7) Getting down from the table mid-meal.

This is again, very normal. 

Especially with experimental toddlers or when toddlers are reaching milestones (or have a new toy!!). 

However, it’s important not to allow young children to wander around whilst eating, so try to encourage them to stay at the table IF they want to eat. 

Let them get down however, if they really want to – forcing them to stay at the table is unlikely to be helpful in the long run. 

Eating at the table with them can help them to stay for longer periods as can offering a variety on their plates and ensuring that they are fairly hungry for the meal in the first place.  

8) Baby wanting “more” 

Lots of people say that their little ones have an insatiable appetite at mealtimes and this can be very normal.

In the toddler years they are growing at a very fast pace and moving about a lot and so need lots of energy. 

They are also very good at regulating their own appetites and sometimes they will eat lots, whilst on another day they may barely touch the food – it’s good to look at what they are eating over a week, rather than focusing on just one or two meals. 

Allow them to eat to appetite (within reason e.g. if you’ve run out, you’ve run out), but it’s fine for toddlers to have seconds (or thirds) if they are wanting them.

You can hear more from Charlotte at www.thebabyshow.co.uk taking place 4-6 March at London Excel.

Charlotte’s top tips for preventing table tantrums

  • Eating together as much as you can – children will learn so much from watching you eat
  • Avoiding distractions like toys and TVs at mealtimes – it’s a hard habit to break once it’s started often
  • Having some extra “side” plates of shared salad or veggies for people to help themselves to
  • Getting your little ones involved – often this helps them to be more inclined to eat it.  
  • Avoiding “pressure”. This one really is key! Pressure to eat up rarely works and is more likely to have the opposite effect in the long run.  
  • Keeping mealtimes light – avoid turning them into battle grounds as much as you can. Keeping them light and enjoyable means your toddler will more likely WANT to be part of them.

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