Although it’s normal for toddlers and preschoolers to be picky eaters, that doesn’t make it any easier for parents. Being patient helps, but there are additional ways to make mealtimes more pleasant.
10 Tips for Feeding Picky Toddlers
- Parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feedings. It’s up to the child to decide if, what, and how much he will eat. Respect your child’s food preferences, which will change over time – we all have foods that we don’t enjoy.
- Establish regular meal and snack times: 3 meals and usually 3 snacks each day; toddlers and preschoolers need to eat about every 2 to 3 hours. Don’t offer anything besides water between meals and snacks – this allows your child to get hungry.
- Offer a variety of nutritious foods at each meal. Always be sure to include at least one or two healthy items you know your child enjoys and will eat.
- Children are more likely to try a new or previously disliked item if it is served with a familiar or favorite food; however, don’t pressure your child to eat it. And don’t give up: children sometimes require 10 to 15 exposures to a food before they will eat it, so continue to serve foods your child refuses. Try serving an item different ways: if your child refuses cooked carrots, try serving raw carrot sticks. And take breaks – re-introduce a food that your child won’t eat in a couple of months; you might be surprised!
- Make foods as plain and easy-to-eat as possible. Offer foods separately rather than mixed up in a casserole, gravy or sauce, salad, or sandwich. Serve finger foods your child can easily pick up and eat.
- Serve small portions: about 1 Tablespoon per year of your child’s age of each food offered. This will prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed and increase the likelihood she will eat it. If your child wants more, she can ask for seconds.
- Involve your child as much as possible in grocery shopping, meal planning and preparation, and growing foods in your garden (which kids love!). Your child is more likely to eat and enjoy something he was involved in. Also, allow your child to make decisions when appropriate; occasionally offer him a choice between 2 foods, such as 1/2 of a banana or some grapes (cut in half due to risk of choking).
- Make mealtimes pleasant and enjoyable. Eat together as often as possible, and set a good example regarding healthful eating and appropriate table manners. Try not to get upset or frustrated if your child refuses to eat; don’t allow mealtimes to become a battle.
- Avoid using dessert or a treat as a reward for finishing a meal. Don’t coax, beg, bribe, force-feed, or play games to get your child to eat.
- If your child refuses to eat what is served, do not get her something else to eat. It’s okay to have her wait until the next scheduled meal or snack to eat (no more than 2 to 3 hours later).
Keeley graduated Summa Cum Laude from Seattle Pacific University with a Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition and a Dietetics Specialization. She went on to complete her dietetic internship at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, where she received the Distinguished Dietetic Intern Award and Scholarship.