Mealtime Meltdown? Why Your Baby’s Refusing To Eat

by Emily Gilbert |
Published on

Are mealtimes turning into a minefield? Don’t take it personally – it’s all just part of your baby’s weaning journey. The good news is, there’s often a reason behind it – and a solution

Is your lovingly prepared cottage pie point-blank refused? No amount of smiley-face-on-a-plate trickery work? Identify why your baby has become a fussy eater and he'll get his appetite back in no time.


Bouts of teething usually start from around six months, and even food favourites will be off the menu when her mouth gets sore and she feels crotchety. ‘Your child might also not be eating because she has a cold coming, or a headache she can’t tell you about,’ says child nutritionist Judy More, author of Happy Toddler Mealtimes.

Solution? Hang on in there. Illness and teething pass and, if your baby is hungry enough, she will eat it. Give her easy-to-chew, semi-hard foods so she can bite down, which may relieve the teething pain. Teething biscuits are ideal. And don’t worry. ‘Babies and children don’t need the same amount of food every day,’ says Judy. ‘It’s more important they get enough to drink.’

Being (too) independent

If your baby used to be happy to let you guide her in her food choices but is suddenly batting away reliable staples, she might be discovering her independence. Yes, already. This is particularly common around nine months, when babies realise they have preferences and want to assert themselves. ‘Even little people don’t like being told what to do and how to do it,’ says consultant child psychologist Emma Citron.

Solution? Give your baby finger food {link to perfect finger food feature} she can enjoy on her own terms. Or give her a spare spoon to play with and feed her from a second spoon you’re holding. ‘That way you give the impression she has independence even if you’re masterminding it otherwise,’ says Emma. Sneaky. But effective.

Messy mealtimes

You’ve encouraged your baby to get stuck in and use her fingers, but suddenly food has become a toy. To a baby who’s in the first few stages of eating, typically from six to nine months, meals can get messy: mashed potato balls fly across the room and upside-down sippy cups become fascinating waterfalls.

Solution? Relax, and let it go. ‘The idea of food turning to mush and ending up on the floor isn’t appealing, but we have to overcome our own issues about tidiness,’ says Emma. ‘Allowing your child to explore and touch food is an important part of learning to enjoy meals and helps her become independent, so encourage her to get stuck in.’ Just keep the J cloths handy.

Too tired

Lunch and dinner tend to be the precursor to naptime or bedtime, at a time when your baby is already ratty.

Solution? Make the main meal of the day at lunchtime, when she’s less likely to be completely zonked. And, if you’ve missed the boat and she’s rubbing her eyes and refusing foods you know she likes, go off-menu. ‘Give your baby something small, such as a piece of banana or a finger of toast, put her down for a nap, and feed her afterwards when she’s more refreshed and receptive,’ says Emma. ‘At the end of the day, a small snack followed by bedtime milk will be enough for an overtired child and is a less stressful way of keeping her nourished.’

Fussy eater

When you start weaning your baby, she’ll discover lots of new tastes pretty quickly. But, at around 18 months, a once-happy eater can become very fussy, only wanting the same foods. ‘It’s thought toddlers tend to eat familiar foods for in-built self-preservation,’ says Judy. ‘In the second year, children are able to walk away from a parent, and if they wandered to a bush and picked red berries or fungi, they could poison themselves.’

Solution? Accept that it’s a phase. ‘The mistake parents make is to give the same meal in desperation, but persevere with new foods – it takes about 15 times for a food to become familiar to a child. Keep offering and eat meals together where possible,’ says Judy.

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