Has your eat-everything baby turned into a toddler who has trouble getting through one meal? Welcome to the parent-of-a-toddler club.
Dealing with a picky eating toddler can be challenging for parents. Instead of getting lured into a no-win power struggle, here are seven effective ways to help your toddler feel more empowered at the table. And make meals more peaceful and enjoyable for all.
1. Change your mindset
Does your picky eater drive you completely insane at mealtime? Try not to dwell on the frustration of it all. Instead, think of it as a normal part of their development (which it is!). Around age two growths slows down and interest in food declines. Young children learn to like a variety of foods the same way they learn how to dress themselves, tie their shoes and read and write – in due time.
See The Most Overlooked reason Kids Stay Picky Eaters for more on development and eating.
2. Focus on the family
Instead of focusing all of your meal-planning efforts around your toddler (it will only frustrate and exhaust you!), prepare and plan meals with the whole family in mind. If you haven’t invited your little one to join the family table for meals, then do so. This is where they learn the most – by watching their family eat.
3. Provide consistent meals & snacks
It’s tempting to give picky eaters the foods they want when they want them, but this can lead to all-day grazing. Studies show kids who eat planned meals and snacks have more nutritious diets than those who eat fewer meals. When you provide your child with 3 regular meals and 2-3 snacks, without food in between, they have more opportunities to eat and be exposed to different foods. Make sure to include their favorites along with other nutritious items they may not like so much.
4. Check liquid calories
Kids have the uncanny ability to self-regulate food intake which means they can fill up on any calorie-containing item including drinks. So watch how much juice and milk they are consuming to make sure these beverages aren’t displacing other nutritious foods in their diet. Keep juice to 4-6 ounces per day for 1-6-year-olds and 8-12 ounces for older kids. Kids over 2 only need 2 cups of milk per day.
5. Don’t leave it all for dinner
Many parents wait for dinner to try new foods or serve certain items like vegetables. But kids are least likely to eat at dinner because hunger tends to wane as the day progresses. So serve veggies and other new foods earlier in the day when your child is likely to be more receptive.
6. Don’t say a word
Believe it or not, you are not responsible for what your child eats. Your only responsibility is to provide balanced meals and snacks. Leading childhood nutrition expert Ellyn Satter, MS, RD, LCSW encourages parents to employ a Division of Responsibility – parents decide the “what” and “when” and “where” of feeding and children decide “how much” and “whether” to eat. So resist the urge to say anything to your child about how much or what they are eating – leave them to do their job.
7. Include little ones in meal planning
Ask for older kids input when planning weekly meals, make little ones helpers in the kitchen and ask for help when picking out produce. Even though you are in charge when it comes to meal planning, making children part of the process will help pique their interest.
There are no secrets or tricks to get your picky eating toddler to eat a variety of foods. They simply need time, no pressure and repeated exposure to nutritious foods. As a parent, you are their teacher. And the best way to teach is to show.