Add “picky toddler” to the list of things NO one warned me about. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the memo and was kind of blindsided. And also, add that to the list of things parents are shamed for. If your kid has suddenly become a picky eater, you’re not alone. And according to experts, its actually totally normal. So, let that guilt go! Here are ten ways I’m fighting the good fight and trying to get my toddler to be less picky.
1. Use the foods that they like to your advantage.
My daughter has a few foods that are her “go-tos”. Your child may also have similar staples: chicken nuggets, pasta, and a good old fashion peanut butter sandwich. Whatever your child is comfortable eating or whatever is their favorite food, use it to get them to explore similar foods. For example, my daughter LOVES peanut butter. I slowly added almond butter to her foods and since it looked like peanut butter, she was willing to try it. At first when she tasted it she was hesitant and realized pretty quickly that something was different. The first day she only had a few drops, barely a spoonful. By the following week she was eating it with apples and now she loves almond butter. My daughter also loves pasta with a little butter and cheese. I bought pasta in different shapes and colors so that she could discover that some of her favorite foods may look different but taste the same so that she’d be more open to trying similar foods that she already likes.
2. Make meal time fun.
I got rid of all of my daughters old bowls, plates, and utensils from when she was just an infant. I purchased all new ones in fun colors and some with her favorite characters on it. I also purchased sandwich cutters in various fun shapes and did my best to make her meals look interesting and colorful. Now, it was definitely far from Instagram-worthy but the effort made a difference. You can always look for inspiration online for creative toddler meal ideas.
3. Stay calm.
Its hard. There’s no doubt about it. And its messy! But staying calm and using positive reinforcements have been more helpful than bribery and scolding. There have been times (I’m human) where I have lost my patience and have gotten really frustrated. I mean, I spend a long time cooking and meal prepping for my family and not to mention who likes to waste food? I’ve even gotten desperate and resorted to bribery. In my experience, clapping and cheering my daughter on when she tries new foods, no matter how rare those moments are, has really made a big difference. When she refuses to try something I just move on. It doesn’t mean I give up. I will just try again another day perhaps with a different technique or method. Let it go and don’t take it personally.
4. Plan B is just as healthy as plan A.
When you’re dealing with a picky eater, you usually have a backup plan in place. I don’t offer a backup right away. But if my daughter refuses to eat something, I give it time. If she continues to refuse whatever I have given her but she’s clearly hungry, I will offer her something else. I know, this is where people normally say “When I was a kid, I ate whatever I was given.” Good for you. But that doesn’t always work for all of us. But when I do offer “plan B” or “option 2” it’s not like I go from offering broccoli to instead offering ice cream. You don’t like carrots? Cool, try corn.
5. Choose treats wisely.
This is one of those tips that are easier said than done. Its like society is set up to make us fail! Every party has junk food. Every gathering is loaded with things you’ve been trying to keep away from your child. And aunties, uncles, and grandparents are more than thrilled to load your kid up on sugar and drop them back home. I get the weirdest looks when I tell someone not to offer my child juice or soda. And I’m totally judged for avoiding candy like its a bomb thats about to go off. The thing is, treats should be once in a while but the way our society is set up, it makes it so difficult to stick to this. So, I have rules and I’m very open about them. I stand my ground and have my husband’s support. My daughter is allowed a treat when she’s with her grandparents if she eats her food and at least has something healthy beforehand. Also, the treat should be the appropriate size/portion. Treats are not given every single day. With that said she does get a lollipop when she goes to the bank with us from the bank tellers and I have had to give in on this one but I have made less trips to the bank with her. It’s all about balance. And about keeping healthy snacks around the house and “junk” food as something we offer at special times.
6. Get a little sneaky.
There are a ton of recipes out there to help you sneak fresh fruits and vegetables into foods your child would never suspect like cupcakes. There are recipes for zucchini bread and black bean brownies. They aren’t as healthy as eating fresh fruit and vegetables but they could help your child try new foods and get a taste for healthier options.
7. Set a good example.
Just a few days ago, I was eating a salad and my daughter reached into my plate and ate some raw spinach. Did she eat truck load? No. Has it become her favorite food? Again, no. But kids will be curious about the foods we’re eating and may be open to trying things that they have seen us eat. So, maybe eat that candy bar with the bathroom door closed. (I’m kidding, who does that? Not me. Well…)
8. Make it social.
Kids are more likely to try foods that their friends or family members that are around the same age are eating. My daughter tried a new food while she was playing with her older cousins. Normally, she wouldn’t have eaten that particular dish but because they were all eating it, she tried it.
9. Cook together.
Am I saying go all Iron Chef? No. But try to prepare or cook simple dishes together like pizza or sandwiches. Sometimes when kids are involved in the process they’re more open to trying new things. Also, taking care of your own garden can encourage kids to try foods that they’ve grown themselves.
10. Ask for support/help.
Its not easy to get your child to eat healthy but its even harder if you’re doing it alone. Make sure you reach out to family and friends and ask for support. Perhaps a family member or friend can send over leftovers for your child to try or perhaps your partner/spouse can help meal prep or shop for new options for your toddler to try.
**As always, please talk to your child’s pediatrician. I am not an expert and these are just tips that worked for our family.