Are you the parent of a picky toddler? Did you have a baby who used to eat all the things who suddenly became a toddler who only eats air and strawberries? Welcome, friend. I commiserate with you and humbly share my:
7 Ways to Entice a Picky Toddler to Eat
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. If you have any concerns, please consult your pediatrician. I am simply sharing my experiences and tips that work for my family. Grazie!*
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Hubs and I did BLW (baby-led weaning) with both of our girls when they were 6 months old. I absolutely LOVED it! (To learn more, read about why I love BLW.) We exposed them to so many different foods and basically, they ate everything we did.
Once Nugget turned 14 or 15 months old, things started to change. She wasn’t as interested in food as she had been. When she did eat, it was very little and sometimes only one food. Our pediatrician said this is a fairly common toddler behavior and not to worry so much about the daily intake as opposed to the weekly intake. (So one meal might be just bananas but another meal might include chicken and yet another broccoli. As long as all of the food groups are covered over the course of a week, we’re in pretty good shape.)
We started playing around with different ideas for how to entice our picky toddler to eat. We never wanted it to be a battle (if she refused or said no, we respected that and tried again later). Here’s what we came up with:
Take Advantage of Colors
How fun is it to eat food that is colorful? Colors are a great way to entice toddlers to eat…especially healthy foods! (Bonus that you can practice identifying colors too.)
Colors Found in Nature
Bell peppers, peas, broccoli, corn, watermelon, and cantaloupe are among some of our favorites.
Colors We Create Ourselves
Cereals, pastas, breads, and sauces can be found in different colors. While I’m not a huge fan of food dyes, they can be used to make dishes a bit more fun as well. Or you can use natural dyes! (Beets for example.)
Play with Shapes
Cookie cutters, crinkle cutters, and one’s imagination can do wonders. For some reason, sandwiches taste better when they are shaped like dinosaurs and vegetables are tastier when they’re wavy!
Use an Interesting Vehicle of Delivery
Mom or Dad’s Plate
How many times has your child refused to eat food from their tray/plate but willingly eats food off of your plate? Food is always more delicious when shared, is it not? Try taking food from your plate and feeding it to your little.
This may or may not work for you, depending on the ages and age gap of your children. Currently, Peanut is 18 months old and sits in a high chair with a tray or in a small chair at a small table. Nugget is almost 3 years old and sits in a regular chair or in a small chair at the small table with Peanut. She has recently taken an interest in feeding little sis as well as helping herself to food from little sis’ tray. (Hey, whatever works, as long as they are both happy and fed!)
TODDLER TIP: Give your toddler choices throughout the day to foster the feeling of being in control. Being a toddler is hard! Getting to make decisions about their own day helps with emotional development.
We currently have these plates at home. They’re lightweight, versatile, and easy to clean. I will usually grab two plates and ask Nugget to choose between the two (she inevitably chooses blue, even if blue is not one of the choices, LOL!). These plates do not have any suction and are not divided.
We also have these bowls, which have suction cups at the bottom. Very handy for serving soups, cereal, or anything with lots of sauce!
Maybe your little one doesn’t like his/her food to touch? Give this plate a try!
Get Creative–Ditch the Plates Altogether!
Last Christmas, we accidentally had a box of chocolates sitting out on the dining room table. Of course, Nugget spotted it and immediately took an interest. Hubs acted quickly and put pieces of sausage inside the box before presenting her with it. She ate the sausage, no questions asked!
I’ve seen food served in muffin tins, bento boxes, tupperware…the possibilities are endless.
Same goes for drinks. These are our favorite cups:
In my quest to keep my children well hydrated, I have served them drinks in the following:
teeny tiny toy cups, my water bottle, my coffee mug, a tea cup…you name it, we’ve tried it.
As for silverware…my children’s favorite are our spoons and forks! The grownup ones.
Hire a Sous Chef
Most children love to help out, especially in the kitchen! Engage your little one in preparing food–washing, peeling, cutting (depending on age). Bonus if they grocery shop with you! (Read about my trip to the grocery store with my two. HI-LA-RI-OUS.) Even little littles can help! Peanut helps me get things out of the pantry. You can find something for your little to do to be a part of the process. It’s especially exciting for my kiddos to see their final product being served–and eaten! “You helped pick that out. You helped mix that. You helped put that on the plate…”
Play with Form and Amount
Sometimes, a taco or a sandwich may be rejected by a picky toddler…but one that has been deconstructed? Same food, same ingredients…different presentation. Kids may also enjoy constructing the food themselves. Just lay out the ingredients and let them have at it!
I’ve noticed that Nugget is a “one food at a time” sort of girl while Peanut will eat whatever is presented. I’ve also noticed that Nugget is more likely to eat six strawberries if I give them to her one at a time as opposed to six at one time. Sometimes variety or amount can be overwhelming. Experiment and see what works with your child!
Location, Location, Location
We typically eat in the kitchen at the table but occasionally, we like to change it up and eat with the TV on or on the floor (a la picnic style), the dining room, or the living room. No shame in this game! I must admit there have been many times that YouTube or PBSKids has come to the rescue in helping my kiddos eat. Or we’ve eaten by me
chasing walking around the house, following the girls with a spoonful of food. Whatever works, Mama!
When the weather gets nicer, I’d love to bring the girls outside for lunch! Change up the environment.
Lead by Example, Then Ignore
This is probably my favorite tactic! I just put food on my plate, plop down, and EAT. Inevitably, Nugget will ask, “Mama, what’s that?” or Peanut will come over and just grab it off my plate! Does this work every time? Of course not. But I’ve learned that children love to do what their parents do and they learn by observing. So if I want my littles to eat their vegetables, I’ve got to start by eating them myself! (I’m lucky we are a veggie loving house.) We *try* to eat as healthy as we can but Hubs has a massive sweet tooth and my nickname is the Carb Queen. What can I say? We try but we also enjoy treats and snacks and all the fried things. In general, we try to offer well-balanced meals and healthy treats as well as “other” foods.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve offered food, been denied, walked away, sat down to my own plate OF THE SAME FOOD…and had it eaten off of my plate. LOL. Again, whatever works!
It can be stressful having a picky eater! You worry about whether or not your child is getting enough nutrition and if they are gaining enough weight. I’ve been there, Mama. Take a deep breath and try not to let it turn into a battle (those rarely end well). I’ve been told that for the most part, toddlers will not starve themselves and will eat when ready. That being said, always check with your pediatrician if you have any major concerns!
I **hope** you got some helpful ideas from my 7 Ways to Entice a Picky Toddler. The toddler years won’t last forever and hopefully, neither will the pickiness. I’m happy to report that as an almost 3 year old, Nugget eats just about everything and anything (in her own time and in her own way, of course!).