What to Do When You Have a Picky Eater

Is your little one refusing to eat anything other than chicken nuggets? Or would he or she rather play than eat anything at all?

If “picky eating” happens in your household, you’re not alone. Many parents worry about what their children eat — and don’t eat. And picky eating is often the norm for toddlers and preschoolers. After the rapid growth of infancy, when babies usually triple in weight, a toddler’s growth rate – and appetite – tends to slow down.

Young children are also beginning to develop food preferences–A toddler’s favorite food one day may hit the floor the next, or a snubbed food might suddenly become the one he or she can’t live without! For weeks, they may eat 1 or 2 preferred foods – and nothing else.

Try not to get frustrated by this typical toddler behavior. Just make healthy food choices available and know that, with time, your child’s appetite and eating behaviors will level out. In the meantime, here are some tips that can help you get through the picky eater stage:

Food Photo 1
boy eating fruit at preschool

Less is more: Sometimes as parents, we feel if we give children more food they will eat more. However, that is often not the case and children can become overwhelmed by large portions. A little food from each good group is a great way to start.

Be colorful: The more colorful the plate is, the more interested children are in eating what’s on it! (Check out https://www.instagram.com/kids.eat.in.color/) Strawberries, blueberries, and avocados are all bright in color (and delicious!)

Try Dips: Children love dipping their food! Even thought this can be messy, try different types of dip: salad dressing, hummus, yogurt, salsa, etc. to see if this encourages your child to eat more veggies and fruits.

Be patient with new foods: Young children often touch or smell new foods and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food’s color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child’s favorite foods.

Recruit your child’s help: At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Don’t buy anything that you don’t want your child to eat. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table.

Don’t be a short-order cook: Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat.

Don’t offer dessert as a reward: Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which might only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.

Keep in mind that your child’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

girl eating fruit and yogurt at preschool
boy eating fruit and veggie at daycare