A toddler will love attention and praise from their parents. This is the best way to reward or treat and is so much better than using food as a reward.

Why should I avoid rewarding my toddler with food?

Foods and drinks given as a reward, treat or comfort become more desirable in your child’s mind than the foods and drinks not given as rewards. For example, saying ‘eat up your vegetables then you can have pudding’ makes the pudding more desirable than the vegetables in your toddler’s mind – the opposite of a healthy eating message. When children are older, the foods you used as rewards may become comfort foods for your child who may then eat them to excess. Sweet and high fat foods eaten to excess can contribute to a child being overweight or obese.

Why is my toddler refusing food?

Food refusal is a normal stage of development in toddlers. Your toddler may refuse foods on sight if he/she doesn’t recognise the food or if the appearance of foods is different to what they are used to, for example your toddler may refuse a broken biscuit or a piece of apple with a mark on the skin. As he/she becomes more familiar with new foods, your child will be more likely to try them. Force feeding or coercing your toddler to eat a food they refuse just makes the mealtime a negative experience for them.

Dealing with food refusal

The best way to encourage your child to eat savoury foods is to sit with your child and eat those savoury foods yourself. Toddlers learn by copying. Try saying something like ‘would you like some of this delicious green broccoli?’ If your toddler refuses to try, accept that but keep eating it yourself and offering it every few days and eventually one day they will try. Give fruit or a small nutritious pudding as a second course whether your toddler has eaten their first course or not.

Toddlers tend to repeat behaviours for which they are rewarded with attention and praise, so remember to praise your toddler when he/she eats well. If your toddler refuses food, just take it away without comment or attention – as hard as this may be. Food can then be offered again, as usual, at the next meal or planned snack time.

Did you know?

There are some great ways to reward your toddler that don’t involve food or drink – here are some examples…

    • Praise them and give them a big smile when they have eaten well
    • Play their favourite game or sing with them
    • Read a book with them
    • Give them a special job that day such as helping you with a special activity

For more information on how to encourage healthy eating, check out our the NowBaby toddler section.