Having a picky eating toddler is such a frustrating thing for a parent. At one point, my son would only eat yogurt, fruit pouches, and mandarin oranges.
I kid you not. I’m not sure how he managed to survive on it, but he did. I felt like we were failing as parents. Who knew that getting your child to eat healthy, or just anything at all could be such a struggle.
It became so frustrating that our pediatrician recommended that we see a pediatric nutritionist to help us work through the issue.
Seeing the nutritionist was a game-changer for us, and after a few expensive sessions, we realized that we had it all wrong.
Now let me be clear, I’m talking about a picky eater in this post. If your toddler is displaying signs of a problem feeder or a tot with sensory issues related to food then it’s recommended that you see a pediatrician for a referral to a food therapist for extra help.
Having a picky eater is normal and it’s just another phase that parents go through. But you and your child can and will overcome it.
Here are a few lessons we learned that have helped our picky eating toddler transition from this stage. Similarily, allowing us as parents to cope and survive the frustrations of having a picky eater.
Toddlers are generally picky eaters.
Although some are more challenging than most. It’s a constant battle. For example, You put green peas on your toddler’s plate one day and they love it. The very next time you give them green peas you get a look of discord and disgust, cause now they hate it!
That is how toddlers are. But for some of us who have more stronger willed picky eaters, who put up a fuss over anything different or green, some persistence and imagination on your part can go a long way.
Step 1. Picky Eating Toddler Meals Mix up
If you have a picky eater, you may already know that mixing it up is an excellent alternative for picky eating toddlers. Try increasing your repertoire of casseroles, stews, soups, and any dishes that jumble food.
In other words, if your picky eater hates veggies, then hide those veggies within the meal. Indeed, hiding veggies will work better instead of having everything – meat, carbs, and vegetables – into separate compartments.
Not only does the blending of flavors train the palate to accept complexity, but the mixture makes it difficult for your picky eater to pick individual pieces out.
Step 2. Stop being a short-order chef for your picky eater
One thing I failed at in the beginning was going out of my way to create alternative meals for my picky eating toddler. I was so worried that he wouldn’t get enough to eat if I didn’t feed him what he wanted.
As a result, I found myself continually making extra meals for him during dinner time. So much so that it became a habit for him not to eat the dinner we created.
For this reason, I say, “Don’t offer a complete alternative meal as a substitution in place of the meal that you have prepared.”
First, if your toddler doesn’t like your spaghetti, don’t make him an alternative turkey sandwich. Doing this will open a loophole, they’ll use anytime there’s something about the meal they don’t like.
Second, if you feel like you must comply with a substitute, then minimize your substitution to something healthy and simple like a banana or an apple.
However, please don’t make it so amazing, they’ll choose it every time. Also, don’t forget to wrap up what they don’t eat and offer it again during the next meal. So they get used to understanding that they must eat their dinner.
Step 3. Stop Free Snacking
This is such a prevalent issue among parents. You must have a meal and snack routine with your toddler. Every 2.5-3 hours is a good measure as to when your toddler should be eating again.
So make sure you are not just giving them snacks after snacks. For example, leaving snacks out on their play table and the toddler is allowed to grab them at any time.
That is to say, it is easier said than done, especially when they are crying about snacks and having a tantrum. Certainly, don’t forget to give your toddler time to get hungry for dinner.
I ultimately failed at this with my son. I enjoyed watching him eat and experiment with foods. But I didn’t realize that the reason he may not be eating dinner because I was giving him fruit pouches at random times during the day. He would request a snack and I would oblige. I didn’t even think twice about it at the time or if the snack would ruin dinner.
Step 4. Encouragement
One thing that worked well for us in combating through this tough time was continuously encouraging our picky eater. In this case, we would encourage him to at least try one bite of each element of the meal. To this day, we still do this when he’s trying new things.
Kids love praises. It’s a reward for them. So don’t forget to show them positive reinforcement when you notice they have taken bites of something or show any progress. Along the same lines, don’t forget to praise them for a “try.”
Step 5. Avoid Uproar, and enjoy your dinner!
You want to keep this from turning into a control game, with your toddler doing the controlling. Once you’ve provided a healthy dinner for your child and they refuse to eat it. You can offer your simple substitute for an apple or banana and then move forward with finishing your meal.
Please don’t continue to argue with your child or make a big fuss over them, not eating.
Additionally, continue with your meal making sure to show how much you are enjoying your meal. Your toddler may become curious, once they notice you are enjoying your meal and decide to try theirs.
Step 6. Your picky eating toddler will not starve
Don’t worry if your picky eater opts not to eat. If they hate the meal and refuse the simple substitute, they will not perish (If your child does have a feeding issue or suffer from an undiagnosed mental issue such as anxiety or OCD, they may avoid eating altogether, so if you suspect your child may have a problem, then see your pediatrician).
Along the same lines, If you don’t offer a substantial snack before the next meal, your toddler may be hungry enough to eat without issues during mealtime.
You can also provide a simple substitute like a cheese stick before bed if your toddler refuses to eat dinner. Cheese sticks are fabulous late-night snack ideas for kids that are picky eaters.
It also is better for their teeth than eating a cookie. But don’t forget to offer them the refrigerated meal that they had previously refused to eat the night before.
Related: Want more help with your picky eater? check out my article on helping toddlers that are picky eaters.
Step 7. You’re the role model for your picky eating toddler
Moreover, a very valuable lesson we learned while dealing with our picky eating toddler was that we had to set the example.
For the most part, that meant modeling how to eat, how to enjoy the food and the physics of food. We had to share our love of food with our toddler. So when he would refuse dinner, we would move on to enjoy our meals and make sure to appear to be enjoying our food immensely.
As a result, he would inch his way over to our plates to try our food to see what the fuss was all about.
So, by all means, let them watch you eat and make sure you show off how yummy your meals are. Once they notice that mom actually likes the green stuff on her plate, they may become curious enough to try it.
It was so frustrating slaving away in the kitchen and creating this fantastic meal, only to have your toddler poke and push the food around on their plate. But that’s just life with a toddler.
I know it’s challenging, but you will overcome this. If you have an extremely picky eater as we did, then try out some of our recommendations.
Now, I’m not saying that you will never have to deal with a picky eater again. No, that’s not true. You will! Because kids are kids. However, these lessons we covered have drastically improved our picky eater situation.
If you have questions about your picky eater, don’t forget to always check in with your pediatrician first.