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When Your Toddler Is a Picky Eater

Kim Draper


Toddlers are a very unique little package; each one is as different as a snowflake in floating through the winter air. They are growing fast at this stage, wants and needs are changing daily, including their appetite.

Feeding your toddler a balanced diet can often feel more like art than science. No matter how much you plan, it will ultimately be up to your child to decide whether or not they will eat what you put before them.

Keep in mind that to some extent a picky eater is born, not made. Various studies have shown genetic differences in people's tastes perceptions. But granted though, that some food preferences are inborn, good planning and plenty of patients by the family cook can still nudge a picky eater towards greater tolerance of more foods. Here are a few ways, but these are not guaranteed in the least to work for everyone.

Timing of Meals

Timing of meals and snacks is also important in raising a toddler to hunger for the right foods. Expect that a young child needs a bit of food about every three hours -- and most adults need a bite at least every five hours. Keeping that in mind schedule snacks midway between meals. If you give a child a snack, even a healthy one, do not be surprised if the child turns picky at dinner, since they are no longer hungry.

Preparation of Food

Be sensitive on how you prepare a particular food. If one cooking method does not work, prepare it in a different way the next time. For instance boiled vs. fried, like okra, some will eat pounds of fried okra, but the mere mention of boiled okra will send them running. Really the little ones are not much different from the parents; we all have our preferences in the way we want our food prepared.

Provide Nutritious Choices

This is one way that really worked with my four and five year old children. Each evening before mealtime I would put out three choices of vegetables, they were to pick out at least two of their favorites. You may think that a child this age is not able to make this choice, but believe me they are much smarter than we give them credit for sometimes. This is important to your toddler; it makes them feel good to help mom in the kitchen. This way they can look forward to the evening meal, knowing they picked the vegetables all by themselves.

Avoid Nagging, Fussing, and Force

Parents often respond to a child's resistance to their chosen meal with resentment and anger. Then the parent begins to nag and fuss over this, insisting to the toddler that they have to eat what is put in front of them. This in turn can trigger the child's very stubborn behavior, which adds to the tension at the family table. If this happens often enough the child will begin to associate eating as something very unpleasant. I know it is aggravating when your child will not eat what you have prepared, but try and see if there are any other reason they might not be hungry and take that into consideration, before the tension builds to a unpleasant family dinner.

Remember, it is common for children this age to go through a period of being picky, this is all new to them and they need time to adjust. Children's food preference fluctuates and is frequently influenced by those around them. For instance, when big brother or sister says, "Yuck, that looks gross", do you actually think your toddler is going to eat it either? Children seem to want to eat exactly the same food at every meal for what seems like a long time. As long as the food is reasonably nutritious and accompanied by milk, juice, or another nutritious drink, no harmful consequences are likely to follow.

Kim Draper is a contributing writer for Baby Corner. She is the mother of two teenage boys. She lives in Texas with her sons and husband.

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Brittany Nov 24, 2008 05:01:17 PM ET

Everytime i ask my 2 year old daughter what she wants for dinner she says, "Chicken Nuggets and French Fries." Although that is an easy meal i know she does not get the proper nutrients. Every new food i try to introduce to her is "Nasty" before she even trys it. I try to be very encouraging about the new food but she doesn't give in. What are some good ways to make trying new foods fun but not into "playtime"?

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