Parenting a picky eater can stress out even the most laid-back among us. The good news? It’s perfectly normal for toddlers to go through a picky eating phase. Now the bad news: it’s our job to help them learn to handle new sensations and avoid a battle of wills. All while keeping our calm. We get it – it’s tough. That’s why we’ve compiled 10 tips to help you reframe your child’s pickiness as a positive and make mealtimes more pleasant.
1. How To Help Picky Eaters: Say Nothing!
This is an approach that takes serious willpower and parents who manage it deserve a medal. Or a child-free weekend. Simply keep presenting your toddler with a wide variety of meals, foods, textures and tastes and say nothing. Ever. Why? It takes all the focus and attention away from what your little one is and isn’t eating. The more you say and show you care, the more you give them something to react against. Don’t offer rewards or negotiate. Your toddler will eventually get bored and hungry.
2. Reframe Picky Eating As a Positive
Children are hard-wired to reject sour, bitter foods. This is a life-saving evolutionary adaptation because children put non-food items in their mouths that could be dangerous. As a result, they’re naturally drawn to sweet foods and may develop a narrow palate.
So for your hesitant toddler, trying new things is actually really brave. Rather than labeling them a ‘picky eater’, talk about them being an adventurous eater. This reinforces the behavior you want – a willingness to try new things.
3. Instill Appreciation For Growing, Preparing And Cooking Food
Pickiness in toddlers is usually because they want to be in control of what they’re eating. Give them some autonomy by involving your toddler in every step as much as you can:
- Talk about what it takes to plant a seed, grow a vegetable and harvest it.
- Let them plant a little garden.
- Take them to the grocery store and ask them to pick any vegetable/fruit they want.
- Let them help you cook.
- Allow them to set the table.
4. Consistently Offer Foods Until They’re No Longer Brand New
Your toddler’s temperament could contribute to picky eating. Because they’re going through a time of wanting to be in charge, they can become negative towards anyone who attempts to take away their independence. Meals are a great opportunity for them to assert themselves – get used to hearing ‘NO!’. So, they need repeated exposure to new foods. Don’t force the issue, just keep introducing the food until it’s no longer brand new.
5. Meet Them Where They Are
Your little one could be naturally a bit anxious and want their plate to look the same every day or meals to be exactly the same every time. Or they may have sensory issues and not like certain textures or colors. They might eat only yellow foods, or only soft foods. Serve those foods and go with it – it won’t last forever.
6. Make Mealtimes Fun
Take advantage of your toddler’s interest in dipping, offering vegetable crudités to dip into yogurt or hummus. Allow them to drizzle the honey, sprinkle the raisins and top with cheese.
Get them their own special plate – we love the EZPZ Happy Mat, which sticks to the table, catches all the mess, has fun compartments for different foods and a great big smile to put your picky eater in a good food mood.
7. Be A Little Bit Sneaky
You can easily hide veggies in food, so your picky eater can eat healthily without even knowing it. Try blending greens into fruity smoothies or use the Beaba Babycook Pro to steam cook and puree fresh veggies into pasta sauces. Here are some quick and easy meal ideas for picky eaters:
- Grate zucchini into muffins.
- Blend beetroot into brownies.
- Serve veggies in a cheese sauce.
- Create your own veggie nuggets.
- Add green juice to popsicles.
8. Let Them Be Responsible For How Much And If They Eat
Create clear boundaries. You’re responsible for what, when and where your toddler eats, while they are responsible for how much and whether they eat. If you’re desperate to get a little food into your picky eater, it may be tempting to let them snack constantly. This can encourage unhealthy eating patterns.
Instead, build three meals and two snacks into the day. Give them a choice of two or three veggies and let them decide. Or let them personalize their meals. Dinner ideas for picky eaters could include burritos or burgers. Put the fillings or toppings in little bowls and allow them to help themselves.
9. Be A Good Role Model
Your toddler watches your every move – and mealtimes are no exception. If you like a food and want them to eat it, don’t go on about it – they will sense your desperation. Let it sink in by osmosis: try new things, eat salad, pile the veggies on to your plate. Likewise, if you don’t like something, don’t lie and pretend to like it. Instead, chat about what went into preparing and cooking it.
10. Eat Meals As A Family
Make family meal times a pleasure that your toddler will look forward to (even if they only pick at their food). The more they enjoy it as a time to catch up, the more they will get used to feeling that they belong, settle into a routine, learn about table manners and focus on how food was prepared and cooked.
For more picky eater tips, check out our healthy snack ideas.