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Tips For Dealing With A Picky Eater


Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. They love a food one day and hate it the next. They obsess over certain foods and refuse to try others. Some can’t stand for their food to touch or want everything to be the same color. No matter how easy-going your toddler is, they are bound to have at least one issue at feeding time at some point. We’ve rounded up several tips to help you get through these difficult years and make food everyone in the family will enjoy. 

Why Are Young Children Such Picky Eaters?

Toddlers are picky eaters for various reasons, but the most common has to do with learning to be assertive and wanting to be more independent. Parents often choose the food, but the child decides if they will eat it and how much of it they will eat. We’ve got some suggestions below on how to make mealtime less of a power struggle and more of a bonding and learning time. However, if you’re experiencing extremes in eating habits leading to potentially ill health, you should know that the best time to change these habits is right now. Studies show that some of our unhealthiest eating habits are formed in early childhood. So this is the best time to open young minds to new food experiences. 

#1. Be A Good Food Role Model 

Children learn a lot from their parents early on by both observing and mimicking behaviors. For example, if their parents refuse to try new foods or turn away from vegetables, then it’s likely their children will do the same. They will also learn eating habits such as portions and snacking by watching you as well. Set a good example with set mealtimes, appropriate portions, and a balanced healthy mix of foods.

#2. Expose Young Children To Variety Of Foods

Toddlers have a natural aversion to strongly flavored foods as leftover evolutionary protection that keeps you from eating potentially dangerous things. Their flavor centers are also inexperienced at this age. It might sound contradictory, but exposing your child to a wide variety of foods will actually help them develop their taste buds. Just don’t over-do it with how strongly the foods are spiced, no matter if that’s sweet, salty, or spicy. 

If you encourage your child to try at least one new food a week or take them to ethnic restaurants with you, you’ll increase their tolerance for taking flavor risks and hopefully discourage picky eating habits as they grow up. 

#3. Let Little Ones Have Choice And Control 

Although they are tiny, it’s only natural for young children to want control over their own lives. It’s a basic human instinct that many parents spend a considerable amount of time and energy struggling against. In truth, giving toddlers more choices and letting them be part of the planning can help them learn independence and gain confidence. Have you ever heard the phrase “pick your battles?” Food is a great example of something not to battle over, so you can save the fight for a more important topic. Yes, you want your child to eat healthy foods, but you can do so by giving them more control, not less. Here are some examples of how to give children more control over food:

  • Let children help do weekly meal planning. 

  • Give choices between two things when possible (an apple or a banana for a snack). 

  • Don’t push a child to “clean their plate,” which can encourage overeating later in life; let them tell you when they are full.

  • Empower your children to feed themselves from a young age. Provide them with the best baby utensils made for the size of their hands and they will quickly take to self-feeding.

You won’t be giving your child full reign to rule the kitchen. Still make one meal for the family; just let them in on the planning or cooking to help them feel more control. Always encourage healthy foods over fatty snacks, but provide easy-to-make choices. 

#4. Pair Preferred And Non-Preferred Foods

Sometimes a few trade-offs can make up one complete toddler-approved meal. If your toddler is super picky about eating vegetables, a time-honored tactic is to “hide” them inside other foods your child likes. For example, adding spinach to a fruit smoothie or putting broccoli in macaroni and cheese. You can also make “french fries” out of different vegetables like zucchini, radishes, or sweet potatoes. Here are some great vegetable-based recipes you can make that include all the healthy foods you’ve been trying to get your toddler to eat. 

#5. Remove Stress And Distractions From Meal Time

Mealtimes are wonderful opportunities to disconnect from the anxieties and rush of the day and sit down together to eat and talk. Avoid making mealtimes stressful by using punishments or guilt to try to force your toddler to eat the way you want them to. Also, eliminate distractions like smartphones or having the TV set on during your meal. This is a great time to have family discussions and bonding. Having too much stress at the dinner table can lead to upset tummies and disruptions in eating habits that could be difficult to correct later. 

#6. Get Creative With Shapes And Colors 

When all else fails, entice your toddler to eat using creativity. This works great for lunches and snacks but can be used with any meal. Your toddler can even help assemble the cute food so that they feel ownership over the meal. 

  • Choose colorful fruits and vegetables

  • Cut food into fun shapes with small cookie cutters

  • Make kabobs--fruit, veggie--because everything is more fun “on a stick” 

  • Cut food into small chunks and put them in muffin tins or some other fun plate

Try some of these clever tricks to help your toddler feel more relaxed at mealtimes and praise them when they try new things or make healthy choices. As they grow up, they will carry these healthy habits with them into adulthood. 

Author Bio

Sandra Chiu works as Director at Ladybug & Friends Daycare and Preschool.

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