Maybe your baby was a healthy eater, wolfing down every veggie purée you’d put in front of him or her. But if he or she has turned into a toddler who refuses to eat anything but chicken nuggets and plain pasta, well you’re not alone. Feeding picky eaters is a stage of toddler development that a lot of parents are not excited about.
About half of all toddlers are picky eaters which may lead to concerned parents. But don’t worry, usually, these phases pass quickly. But until your child’s food preferences mature, consider these healthy tips to prevent mealtime battles.
1. Turn Your Toddler Into Chef’s Mini Helper and Make it Fun.
Start off in the grocery store and ask your child to help you pick out fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. Don’t buy anything you don’t want your child to eat.
Then at home, inviting your toddler to lend you a hand in the kitchen while cooking can actually help your toddler want to try new foods more because they helped prepare them!
Encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table. Keep your little one away from the hot stove or anything hot, for that matter.
Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favourite dipping sauce. Cut foods into various fun shapes with cookie cutters. Serve a variety of brightly coloured foods and you may even offer breakfast foods for dinner.
2. Set a Good Example.
If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit. So it’s best to try not to let your little one see you eating chips or soda pop throughout the day. Instead, save your guilty pleasures for when they’re napping and dispose of the evidence just in case!
3. Respect Your Child’s Appetite – or Lack of One
Forcing your child (or bribing) might only ignite a power struggle over food. This is often how mealtime can be associated with anxiety or frustration and we don’t want that! If your toddler isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack, and if he or she doesn’t clean off the entire plate, don’t force it.
Serve smaller portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give them the opportunity to ask for more food or offer more after they’re done.
4. Sneak in Fruits and Veggies
A mom has got to do what a mom has got to do. So if your little one is fussy about eating their fruits or veggies, sneak them in. Here are a couple of ideas on how:
- Hide purée cauliflower in the mashed potatoes
- Blend carrots or squash into pancakes
- Blend spinach, eggplant, or zucchini in with spaghetti sauce
- Toss in any kind of fruit and make a smoothie or milkshake (or make your own V8 juice)
- Dice up fruits over yogurt and call it a sundae
Your toddler might eventually – and hopefully – acquire a liking to the real thing.
5. Minimize Distractions.
Turn off the TV and other electronics during feeding time. This will help your child focus. Keep in mind that you can still make mealtime fun (and educational) without distractions from television or toys.
6. Don’t Offer Dessert as a Reward.
As tempting as it may be, try not to bribe your child with treats for eating other foods. Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child’s desire for sweets. It can also lead to nightly battles at the dinner table.
If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s health or development, consult a doctor.
Additionally, you may track your toddlers eating for a couple of days to get an idea of the big picture to ease your worries. A food log can also help your doctor determine any concerns or problems in your child’s eating schedule or growth chart.
Remember your child’s eating habits won’t change overnight, but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
7. Additional Tips
- Eat together when you can
- Banish boring food and get creative
- Don’t blacklist treats
- Be patient and keep your cool
- Keep portions small
- Eat at regular times and have a routine
- Try and try again
- Limit mealtime to about 30 minutes
- Listen to your child
Don’t pressure, praise, reward, trick or punish. Children who want to be independent will not eat well if they feel the pressure. Allow your child to decide if and how much he or she will eat from the foods offered and trust they will eat when hungry.
Written by: Melissa Ureten