Picky Eating in Toddlers: What to do

Judith W. Rodriguez

Reading Time: 12 minutes
picky eating in toddlers

Picky eating in toddlers can be challenging. If you’re a parent of a toddler, you’re likely familiar with this challenges of getting your little one to eat a balanced diet. One day they love broccoli and the next day they refuse to even touch it. It can be frustrating, worrisome, and even downright stressful for parents.

However, picky eating in toddlers is a common behavior that many children go through as they explore new tastes and textures. In fact, it’s completely normal for toddlers to be selective about what they eat, and it’s important to approach the situation with patience and understanding.

So, let’s delve into the world of picky eating in toddlers and explore some tips and strategies to help your little one develop healthy eating habits. These will help you navigate the picky eating stage and hopefully broaden your child’s culinary horizons. From understanding the psychology behind picky eating to creative ways to introduce new foods, we’ve got you covered.

So let’s dig in and find some solutions to make sure mealtime is more enjoyable for both you and your picky eater!

How to deal with picky eating in toddlers

1. Understand the psychology behind picky eating in toddlers

Understanding the psychology behind picky eating means recognizing that picky eating in toddlers is normal and developmentally appropriate behavior. Toddlers are still learning about their preferences and dislikes and may be hesitant to try new foods or textures because they are afraid of the unfamiliar.

At the same time, toddlers also develop a sense of autonomy and control over their environment. Mealtime is one area where they may feel empowered to assert their independence by refusing certain foods.

It can be especially true if mealtime has become the source of conflict or power struggles between parent and child.

Parents need to recognize that picky eating is not necessarily a reflection of their parenting or a sign of a deeper issue. Rather, it is a natural part of their child’s development. By approaching mealtime with empathy and understanding, parents can create a positive environment. That will help encourage toddlers to explore new foods and develop healthy relationships with food.

  • Reading up on the subject
  • Consulting with a pediatrician or nutritionist, and 
  • Observing their child’s behavior and reactions to food. 

Some ways parents can better understand the psychology behind picky eating in toddlers include:

By staying attuned to their child’s needs and preferences, parents can help their picky eaters develop a more varied and nutritious diet over time.

Related: The benefit of reading to your child.

2. Create a stress-free mealtime environment

Assume you’re a toddler, and you’re about to eat a meal. You’re hungry and excited to eat, but you notice that everyone around you appears tense and stressed. Your parents are arguing or rushing around the kitchen, or they are constantly reminding you to eat.

All of this stress and tension can be overwhelming and distracting, making it difficult to concentrate on your food and enjoy it. You may begin to feel anxious or frustrated, which may lead to you becoming a picky eater.

Consider a different scenario. Everyone in your family is relaxed and happy as you sit down to eat. There is no arguing or rushing, and your parents are not present to pressure you to eat your food. Instead, they’re calmly encouraging you to try new foods and enjoy your meal. 

In this stress-free environment, you’re able to focus on your food and enjoy the flavors and textures. You feel more relaxed and at ease, which makes it easier for you to try new foods and expand your palate.

Overall, parents can encourage their toddlers to eat more adventurously and break bad picky eating habits by making mealtimes stress-free. It involves creating a calm environment, staying away from pressure and stress, and promoting a healthy relationship with food. This approach can eventually help picky toddlers develop healthy eating habits that will serve them well for years to come.

3. Offer a variety of foods

Toddlers can be quite picky eaters, preferring certain foods over others and sometimes refusing to try new things. However, offering a variety of foods can help encourage them to try new foods and expand their palate.

When toddlers are exposed to a variety of foods, they are more likely to develop a taste for different flavors and textures. It can also help prevent them from becoming too picky and wanting to eat the same foods repeatedly.

Offering a variety of foods can help guarantee that your toddler is getting all the necessary nutrients for their growing bodies. Different foods contain different vitamins and minerals, so by offering a variety, you can make sure they are getting everything they need.

Additionally, it’s critical to remember that toddlers might have to try a new food several times before they begin to enjoy it. Therefore, even if they reject food at first, keep presenting it in small amounts, and eventually, they might start to like it.

4. Make food appealing to toddlers

Making food appealing to toddlers can help encourage them to try new things and stop being so picky.

how to deal with picky eating in toddlers

One way to make food more appealing to toddlers is by making it visually appealing. You can do this by arranging food on their plate in a fun and creative way or by using colorful fruits and vegetables. For example, you could make a smiley face with blueberries for the eyes and a banana slice for the mouth.

Another way to make food more appealing to toddlers is by letting them help with the preparation. They could help stir a bowl of ingredients or pick out fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. Doing so can make them feel more involved and excited about the food they are going to eat. 

Offering a variety of textures can also make food more appealing to toddlers. For example, they may enjoy crunchy carrots or smooth avocados. By offering a mix of textures, you can help keep mealtime interesting and encourage them to try new things.

Finally, making food fun can help make it more appealing to toddlers. You could use cookie cutters to make sandwiches into fun shapes or create a fruit skewer with colorful fruits. It will help make mealtime more enjoyable for your toddler and may even make them more willing to try new foods.  

5. Be a good role model

You, as a parent, have an important influence on how your child develops good eating habits. Regarding food, you, as a good role model, can encourage your toddlers to stop being picky and develop healthy eating habits.

One way to be a good role model is to eat a variety of healthy foods yourself. When your toddler sees you enjoying fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods, they are more likely to want to try them as well. On the other hand, if they see you only eating junk food or refusing to try new things, they may be more likely to do the same.

Another way to be a good role model is to also eat meals together as a family. When everyone sits down together and eats the same food, it can create a positive and supportive environment for your toddler to try new foods. You can also model good eating habits, like taking small bites, chewing slowly, and not rushing through meals.

Related: 24 Important qualities of a good mother.

6. Avoid distractions during meals

Distractions during meals can be a big obstacle when making your toddler eat properly. So, let me explain why avoiding distractions during meals can help your toddler stop picky eating in a way that’s easy to understand.

Think about it this way: when we are distracted, we tend to focus on whatever is distracting us and lose track of what we were doing before. The same thing can happen to your toddler during mealtime. If they are distracted by toys, TV shows, or other activities, they will not be paying attention to their food, making them eat less or become picky.

On the other hand, when you remove distractions during mealtime, your toddler can focus solely on their food. They can see, smell, and taste what’s on their plate and fully engage with the experience of eating. It can help them become more interested in their food and more willing to try new things.

Therefore, try to remove distractions during mealtime if you want to help your toddlers in ending picky eating. To encourage your child to concentrate on their food, turn off the TV, put toys and electronics away, and create a calm, relaxing environment.

7. Serve appropriate portions

Imagine you are at a party with a giant buffet table full of all your favorite foods. You’re so excited to eat that you pile your plate high with all kinds of delicious snacks and treats.

But then, halfway through your plate, you start to feel full. You don’t want to waste the food, but you also don’t want to keep eating. So you force yourself to finish everything on your plate, even if you don’t want to.

This is what happens to toddlers when they are given too much food. They get overwhelmed by all the choices, and they end up taking more than they can eat. Then, when they realize they’re full, they don’t want to waste the food or disappoint their parents. So they keep eating even though they don’t want to.

This can lead to picky eating because your toddler starts associating mealtime with feeling uncomfortable and being forced to eat more than they want. However, serving appropriate portions can help break this cycle.

Giving your toddler the ideal amount of food for their age and appetite will teach them to know when they are full and know when to stop eating. They will feel more in charge of their eating choices and are less likely to develop picky eating habits as a result.

Additionally, if your toddler is still hungry after eating his or her portion, you can always offer more. They no longer feel pressured to consume everything on their plate and can instead ask for more food whenever they want it.

8. Offer healthy snacks

Toddlers are at an age where they are learning a lot about the world around them. This includes the foods they eat. Sometimes, they may develop a preference for certain foods and refuse to try new things, which can be frustrating for parents.

One way to encourage your toddler to try new foods is to offer them healthy snacks. When your child is hungry between meals, offering them a nutritious snack can help prevent them from becoming overly hungry and cranky. However, making it easier for them to be open to trying new foods when mealtime comes around.

Additionally, offering a variety of healthy snacks can expose your toddler to different flavors and textures. As a result, helping them to develop a more diverse palate. Over time, they may become more willing to try new foods and may even develop a taste for healthy options.

It’s important to note that introducing new foods can take time and patience. Your toddler may not take to a new snack right away, and that’s okay. Keep offering a variety of healthy options, and try not to pressure them to eat anything they don’t want to. Eventually, they may surprise you by trying something new all on their own!

In summary, offering healthy snacks can help prevent your toddler from becoming too hungry and cranky. While also exposing them to a variety of nutritious foods that can help to expand their palate over time.

9. Use positive reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is a technique where you reward your child’s positive behavior to encourage them to repeat it in the future. In the context of picky eating, this means praising and rewarding your toddler when they try new foods or eat a well-balanced meal.

For example, you could offer verbal praise like “Great job trying that new food!”. Or physical rewards like a sticker or a small treat. Over time, your child will start to associate trying new foods with positive feelings and may be more willing to try new things in the future.

It’s important to note that positive reinforcement should always be used in a healthy and balanced way. It means offering praise and rewards that are appropriate for your child’s age and development level and not over-rewarding or spoiling them.

Another key aspect of using positive reinforcement is to avoid using punishment or negative comments when your child refuses to try new food. By so doing, it can create negative associations with food and eating, which can make picky eating in toddlers worse.

Instead, try to approach meals and snacks positively and encouragingly. Offer a variety of healthy options and praise your child for making healthy choices. Over time, your child may become more open to trying new foods and may even start to enjoy a wider variety of healthy options.

10. Be patient and persistent

Being patient and persistent can be a helpful approach when trying to help your toddler stop being picky. Let me explain why.

First of all, it’s important to understand that picky eating is a common phase that many toddlers go through. It’s a normal part of their development and doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s anything wrong with them or their eating habits. However, it can be frustrating for parents who want their children to eat a well-balanced diet.

One way to address picky eating in toddlers is to be patient and persistent in offering a variety of healthy foods. It means consistently offering healthy options at meal and snack times, even if your child initially refuses them.

However, it’s important to remember that it can take time for a child to become accustomed to new foods. It’s not uncommon for toddlers to need to try a new food several times before they develop a taste for it. So, be patient and keep offering a variety of healthy options over time.

Another way to be persistent is to avoid catering to your child’s picky eating habits. For example, if your child refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets for dinner, don’t give in and serve chicken nuggets every night. Instead, continue to offer a variety of healthy options at each meal, even if your child initially refuses them. 

11. Consult with a healthcare professional

Consulting with a medical professional, such as a pediatrician or a nutritionist. They can help address picky eating habits in toddlers. They can help in addressing the picky eating habits of your toddler. These professionals have the expertise and experience to assess your child’s dietary requirements. Also, spot any potential underlying problems, and offer tailored recommendations to enhance your child’s diet and general health.

By consulting a healthcare professional. You can gain insights into the specific nutrients and food groups that your child may be missing out on due to picky eating. They can also help you create a balanced meal plan that incorporates a variety of healthy foods and meets your child’s nutritional needs. Additionally, they may also recommend supplements or fortified foods to make sure your child is getting all the nutrients they need.

12. Be aware of food allergies and intolerances

Food allergies and intolerances are different from each other. But they both involve the body having an adverse reaction to certain foods. Food allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to a specific protein in a food. While food intolerances happen when the body has difficulty digesting a particular food.

Being aware of your child’s food allergies and intolerances can help you identify why they may be refusing certain foods. For example, if your child has a dairy intolerance, they may not want to eat cheese or drink milk. Or, if they have a peanut allergy, they may refuse foods that contain peanuts.

By identifying the foods that your child can and cannot eat. You can make more informed decisions about what to offer them. It can also help you avoid offering foods that your child will refuse or that may cause an allergic reaction or digestive issues.

Related: Allergies In Children – What They Are, And How To Treat Them

13. Be creative with recipes

One way to encourage your toddler to try new things is by making mealtime fun and exciting. This is where creativity with recipes can come in.

You can start by introducing new foods gradually and in a way that is appealing to your child. For example, you can try adding new ingredients to familiar dishes that your toddler already enjoys. If your child likes macaroni and cheese, you can add pureed vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower to the sauce. This way, your child is getting the nutrients from the vegetables without even realizing it.

14. Don’t force toddlers to eat

It’s important to understand that toddlers are still learning about the world and their bodies. It includes learning about hunger and fullness cues. These are the signals our bodies send us to tell us when we’re hungry and when we’re full.

When we force toddlers to eat, we override their natural hunger and fullness cues. For example, if a toddler says they’re full and we force them to eat more, they learn to ignore their own body’s signals. Therefore, relying on external cues (like someone telling them to eat) instead. Over time, this can lead to picky eating because the toddler doesn’t trust their hunger and fullness cues.

However, if we teach toddlers to pay attention to their hunger and fullness cues. They will learn to trust their bodies and form a better connection with food. Rather than relying on external cues, they learn to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. It can help prevent picky eating. 

By not pressuring toddlers to eat, you are promoting in them a positive relationship with food and a sense of trust in their bodies. It can help toddlers to develop a lifelong healthy eating habits and prevent picky eating.

15. Don’t give up on your toddler favorites

When you don’t give up on your toddler’s favorite food, it shows them that you care about what they think and that their preferences are valid. Making them feel more in control and less anxious before meals can lessen the likelihood that they will engage in picky eating behavior.

Additionally, continuing to offer your toddler their favorite food can help them develop a positive relationship with that food. If they associate it with feelings of comfort and satisfaction, they may be more likely to try new foods that are similar in taste or texture.

However, it’s important to remember that offering your toddlers their favorite food should not be the only strategy you use to address picky eating.

16. Celebrate successes

A great way to motivate your toddler to try new foods and form healthy eating habits is to celebrate their successes. When your child tries a new food or consumes a meal that contains a variety of healthy foods. It’s important to commend them for their efforts and let them know that you are proud of them.

By doing this, you can help build your toddler’s confidence and encourage them to continue trying new foods. This positive reinforcement can also help to reduce any anxiety or stress they may have around mealtimes, which can contribute to picky eating behavior.

Celebrating your toddler’s successes doesn’t have to be a big display. It can be as simple as giving them a high five, a hug, or telling them how proud you are of them. You can also offer small rewards, such as stickers or a favorite activity, to reinforce their positive behavior.

Final thought

Dealing with picky eating in toddlers can be a challenge. But it’s important to approach the situation with patience and empathy. By understanding the psychology behind picky eating. And, by staying attuned to your child’s needs and preferences, you can develop strategies to help your toddler develop a healthy relationship with food.

Whether it’s introducing new foods in creative ways or involving your child in meal planning and preparation. There are many ways you, as a parent, can support them toward a more varied and nutritious diet. With time and persistence, most picky eaters grow out of their selective eating habits and learn to enjoy a wider range of foods.

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