How to Reduce Your Toddler’s Picky Eating
Picky eating in toddlers is not all that uncommon, but it can sure be frustrating for parents.
Most babies tend to eat anything and everything while they are exploring food for the first time. It can trick you into thinking you have an awesome eater and will never have to deal with picky eating (I know it did for me!).
The thing is, even though it seems like kids never stop growing, after the rapid growth stage of infancy, children’s growth slows down a little bit. This means they may not eat as much since they are not using that food for growth. There could be a number of reasons your toddler is being picky.
Toddlers are also starting to gain a little bit of independence. They want to pick and choose everything, do it all themselves, and figure out what it is that they like.
This means liking one thing one week, and completely hating it the next. Or only wanting to eat two or three foods for weeks, and nothing else.
For a parent, this is difficult.
You want to make sure your baby is getting the nutrition they need. You know they can’t live off of goldfish and cookies, but you may get to a point where as long as they are eating it doesn’t matter what you get them to scarf down.
I’ve been there, and there’s not need for judgement here. I get it mama! Some days it’s just too hard and as long as they’re fed you got through the day.
However, you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t looking for a bit of help. These tips are easy to follow and implement, and will 100% give you the push you need to help your your picky toddler expand their pallet!
Note: If you think your toddler may have issues beyond regular toddler pickiness, isn’t growing, or is losing weight etc. you need to see a doctor or dietician who specializes in this area. Trust your gut.
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Reduce the Pressure
We all know how toddlers are. They push and push your buttons because that’s exactly what they are designed to do. They push boundaries and see how far they can take you.
And that’s not a bad thing! It’s completely developmental. Even so, it’s tough on a mama mentally, especially when it’s your job to hold those boundaries.
The more you push, the more they push back.
That being said, when it comes to meal times and food, you can and should reduce the pressure on yourself and on your toddler a bit.
There’s really no need to force food down their throats, this only results in pushing right back. I don’t know about your toddler, but mine’s favorite word is ‘no’.
So what do we do about this when trying to get them to eat?
Since we started baby led weaning with our son at 6 months old, I tried to stick to this rule:
- It is my job to decide what and when he eats.
- It is his job to decide if and how much he eats.
I decide what he will be given to eat, when that will be, and I put the plate down in front of him and let go of everything else.
This not only teaches them to learn to trust their bodies and create a healthy relationship with food, but reduces your stress level at meal times immensely, in turn reducing theirs as well. Babies are born with the ability to know when they’re full and when they’re truly hungry and encouraging them to continue on with that bodily autonomy is a good and important thing.
We had a slight set back on this when we were letting my son snack whenever and on whatever, and giving him the option of what to eat. That’s a lot for a little brain to decide with so many options, but we assumed he was always hungry, until he wasn’t eating at regular meal times.
As soon as we came back to this rule things started to change. Of course he craved that power of choosing but I knew it was a little much for him to handle, and he would just stand there with the fridge open or choose cookies.
Now, he snacks less, I give him options on his plate and he eats so much better. The list of foods he is back to eating has grown so much since going back this rule.
Reducing those snacks, giving more options at proper meal times, and sitting him down to eat in a bit of a (flexible) schedule really turned things around.
They’ll eat what their body needs. Trust them and give them lots of options.
Involve Them in Preparation
Toddlers love to help!
Sometimes this can be frustrating because they want to do it ‘their way’ and sometimes their way takes way more time than your way…
You watch them and just want to help them so bad.
But, giving them the time to figure things out and help you in their own roles is a game changer when it comes to meal times!
Here are some things you can do to get them involved:
- Let them cute up soft foods with this beginner toddler knife set
- Let them get food from the fridge or cupboard
- Take them grocery shopping with you. Explain what you’re buying and what it will be for. Maybe even let them pick it off the shelves.
- Let them pour, stir, mix, and get messy!
The more you practice these skills with your toddler the better (and less messy) they get at them!
When it comes to things like cutting and peeling, that is completely dependent on your comfort level and how much you’re willing to help them (or how much they are willing to let you help them).
You can get beginner knife sets like these or more advanced toddler knife sets like these for older toddlers who have been practicing and showing interest for longer.
Have fun with letting them explore and make food with you! It may test your patience some days, but it’s a great bonding experience and teaching moment.
Make Food Fun
As a kid you probably were told not to play with your food.
However, playing with food is part of the way kids experience, explore and get comfortable with food, especially knew foods.
The mess can be hard, but allowing your toddler to play a little with their food can have amazing benefits when it comes to picky eating.
It demystifies food for them, it makes food and meal time more fun and enjoyable, and it creates an amazing sensory experience.
You can have fun with their food too! You can cut it into fun shapes, get them to use cookie cutters for sandwiches or create cool pictures with food.
There are lots of awesome toddler cutlery and tools to help you with this, for good reason! These car waffle makers are one of my personal favorites!
***Another little tip: To make life a little easier on you, try using this Rapid Slicer Tool to cut food up for your toddler! It reduces time for you and cuts things into pieces that reduce choking hazards for your toddler.
Toddlers are programed to be a little fearful of new foods. It’s a survival mechanism meant to protect them. This means that it can take up to 20 exposures of a new food for toddlers to feel comfortable with any given food.
That’s also why it’s important to introduce as many new foods as possible while they are babies, as they tend to be more explorative and less weary of these new foods. The sooner they are exposed the better!
That’s not to say that it’s every too late. You can start now!
Take it slow and be patient. By now my toddler has been exposed to most foods we ever eat, but every once in awhile I’ll put something on his plate that we either haven’t eaten in awhile or I don’t think he’s been exposed to.
I always put a food that I know he is 100% comfortable with and will most likely eat on the plate as well. That way I know he will eat something and it helps make him feel more comfortable with the new food.
You can also try offering them a “no thank you” bowl. This gives them somewhere to put the food they do not want, other than the floor or the other side of the table.
This has worked really well for my son! He doesn’t like the food he doesn’t want on his plate. If he tries something and doesn’t like it he will let me know and I show him where to put it.
This reduces so much mess for me too! He’s able to see somewhere specific to put the food.
Psst… If you want cute weekly planner pages to help you keep track of your toddler’s schedule or to help plan out your meals for the week, this weekly planner is so pretty and super simple to use!
Eat As a Family
Sharing meals as a family is so important. It is an easy way to bond, to model proper eating behavior, and involve them in conversation.
Try and make sure you serve one meal for the whole family, and resist the urge to give your toddler something different. This only increases picky eating.
If your child is anything like mine he will notice that you have different foods and most likely want what is on your plate anyway.
Keep television, cell phones, and any other distractions away from the dinner table.
Personally, we don’t eat all our meals together all the time. Sometimes I’m doing dishes, or folding laundry, or just not ready to eat when he is. So, I make it a goal to at least do one meal together, usually dinner time.
Do what works for your family!
Always remember, if you are at all concerned with your toddler’s eating habits don’t hesitate to talk to your pediatrician! They can offer more specific tips to help your child.