The secret to avoiding mealtime stress with toddlers

Not sure where to start when it comes to toddlers refusing foods? Mum and Lite n’ Easy Dietitian Melissa Holloway shares 5 tips that could change the dining room battleground forever.

First off, I’m going to start with declaring that I don’t professionally work with children’s diets – whether it be fussy eating, allergies or introduction to solids. My own personal experience is that I have a two year old. I would love to say he gobbles all of the beautiful meals that I make him – but at the moment, he usually makes a visual assessment before declaring his disinterest.

While I understand how to eat well for health, like most parents I still experience the frustration and confusion that comes with feeding toddlers.  I’ve trawled numerous websites and blogs to find some tips on how to best approach food and here’s what I’ve found to be most valuable.

1. The hierarchy of decision making

One simple concept around feeding kids is that we as parents make the decision on WHAT foods we offer to our family, but the kids get to decide IF they eat it as well as HOW MUCH.  One important point with the ‘WHAT’ foods is to make sure there is at least one familiar and enjoyed food in there.

Letting kids make their own decisions (within these boundaries) is a game changer when it comes to reigning in your expectations and feelings around kids’ eating habits. Which takes me to my next point…

2. Pressure will create resistance

Can you imagine how it feels as a child to be told you ‘HAVE’ to eat the food put in front of you at every meal?  You’re not hungry, you’re tired, and you’re a young child so of course you’ll be doing everything possible just to have it your way.

If a child isn’t interested in a food or meal, we often feel parental guilt to ensure they are eating ‘well’, so we persist with pressuring them to eat.  In turn, every meal becomes a space for frustration and anxiety on both sides – we want them to do something, they don’t want to do it.

This includes bribery! How many times were you pushed into eating a meal you didn’t want as a child, just so you could have dessert? All that does is make regular foods even less tempting, and desserts even more prized.

Creating meal times that are comfortable and free from pressure will allow children to explore foods at their own pace and avoid anxiety at meal times in future.  If dessert is on the menu, make sure it’s not provisional on the child eating their dinner first.

3. Kids change their minds

My son has never taken to potato. Not even hot chips (I know, weird). But I have faith that one day he will eat them; it’s just that he’s not into them right now. I still put potato on his plate every time we eat it, because 1. He needs to be exposed to potato if there is ever a hope of him eating it, and 2. He should be offered the same food as we are (unless for some reason that food is unsafe for him to eat).

One food he often changes his mind about is cucumber. He won’t have a bar of it for weeks, then one day it’s all gone from his plate.

Just. Keep. Offering.  They might suddenly show an interest one day.

4. It’s not always about the food

Sometimes their refusal of food is nothing to do with the food itself. Because they can’t communicate with us well, it’s hard to know exactly what’s going on. They might not be hungry enough for a meal, they might be exhausted, or we might have just pulled them away from an activity they were happily engaged in.

The best we can do is to be consistent in the timing of our meals, give them some notice that a meal time is coming up and if they’re absolutely screaming to get away, then it’s probably not worth the trouble of keeping them at the table.  If that’s the case, let them know everyone is sitting down for a meal and that their meal is ready when they want it.  They might just wander over to join you after calming down.

5. Eating with your children is so important

For a long time I thought that it would be harder to prepare and eat meals in the short time after work before we put our son to bed. It must have been the fatigue. Not only has it been a huge time saver to cook only one meal time per night, it ensures that we also get to model eating and new foods to our son in a safe and fun space in which we’re all participating.

It definitely requires planning, and when you’re short on time, you need some pre-prepared meals on hand (Sunday meal prep blitz) and meals that are reliably quick and easy to throw together.

Not only is it a good opportunity to model family meal times and new foods, kids at this age love to copy and spend time with you; if you’re daring enough you could even get them to help out with making dinner!


So if you’re not sure where to start when it comes to toddlers refusing foods, start with just one thing.  Trust.

  • Trust that your child understands if they are hungry or not
  • Trust that your child won’t refuse the food forever
  • Trust that you’re doing a great job

Why Lite n’ Easy? 

Lite n’ Easy has a variety of options to suit all tastes and budgets. Our meals are great for when you’re on the go by giving you everything you need. We even have smaller meal options that make a delicious, healthy meal for the kids. Give us a call on 13 15 12 or click here to order now.


Melissa Holloway

Melissa Holloway is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with extensive experience working in foodservice across a range of industries including aged care, elite sport and in hospitals. She is passionate about ensuring people have access to not only fresh and healthy food options, but also that people get to choose food that they truly enjoy. As a busy Mum, Melissa loves preparing healthy and delicious food for her family.