Picky-eating toddlers are very well known to me. I see them in my office all the time. Frustrated parents scramble around the web looking for all the best meal recipes that will make their 2-year old want to eat dinner. Some have tried very hard, and others are so tired that they just let the kids eat what they whatever they want. This can sometimes lead to very unhealthy, unbalanced diets.
So, if you have found yourself wondering if you should just give your toddler a hot dog for breakfast, or “let them starve”… you are not alone! During the toddler stage, many toddlers go through some picky-eating phases. It’s a myth that they all do, but it’s certainly a big chunk of kids who do.
Beyond the traditional “eat it because I said so” are some methods that approach this very common phase with a positive parenting approach. Here are some practical tips you can use to encourage a healthy relationship with food in your toddler.
- Give the illusion of choice: instead of asking an open question about what they want to eat, it is more useful if you can narrow the choices down to two healthy options, and ask your child to pick from those two. Kids are more likely to try something new if they can choose it.
- Self-feeding = control: Along the same line, it helps when children feel empowered over their feeding. One easy thing that they can do to make them feel in control is letting them feed themselves, if possible.
- Hunger is your friend: Kids are more likely to eat and to be adventurous with food when they are very hungry. So if you happen to come across one of those instances when they are so hungry they would anything, use this moment to offer foods that they have refused in the past. It won’t always work, but kids learn to eat foods they used to dislike all the time. And this is a great moment to try it.
- Offer a favorite every time: You want to feed your children nutritious foods, and you also want them to be happy. They would rather eat cheese puffs and candy, every day, probably (I hope not). A good trick is to mix it up to include at least one healthy food item with every meal.
Preschooler kids can still have picky-eating tendencies, and here are some tips that can help with them:
- Participating in meal preparation: Find age-appropriate tasks that they can do to help with the meal planning and preparation process. These activities will make children more interested in food, and make them more likely to want to eat it if they participated in making it.
- Growing food: Another tip to help kids get more interested in food is teaching them where food comes from. A fun and easy way that will get kids interested in food and where food comes from, is to help them participate in the growing of fruits and/or veggies at home. [Hint: the easiest will be a home herb garden]. This may also increase the chances of them wanting to eat the food that they participated in creating.
- Choosing items from the grocery store: This is another neat way in which you can include your kid in the decision-making process of food planning and preparation. They might go crazy if you just let them pick anything from the store, so start by limiting the category of food they get to pick. For example, start by letting them pick one fruit type. As they grow and learn you can allow them to make other healthy picks in the store.
- No bribing: Bribing a kid with a “prize” food in exchange for them eating an “undesirable” food only perpetuates their idea that some foods are nasty chores and the others are very desirable rewards. Try to avoid falling into the bribe trap. It’s not making it better for the long run.
- No substituting meals: If your kid doesn’t want what the family is having for dinner, you should not feel like you have to make a substitute meal just for them. In fact, this reinforces the idea that they are entitled to demand their favorite foods and that you’ll oblige when they refuse their plate. Instead, try explaining that, what is on their plate is what you have prepared for the family. If they don’t want to eat it now, you’ll happily save it for later. Then go ahead and serve them the same thing later when they are hungry.
- No forcing them to eat: Don’t waste your time wrestling your kid to push veggies into their mouths. It won’t work, and it will make them despise undesirable foods even more. If they don’t want it now, then they won’t eat it. But they don’t get “yummier substitutes”, as I explained above.
- Kids won’t starve: Their appetite may vary, but they won’t really starve. When they are hungry, they will eat. Don’t feel guilt-tripped into giving in to their demands.
- Stay strong: The picky eating phase comes with tantrums that may be big or small. It is important that you keep in mind that the best way to come about it is with peace and love. Getting angry and shouting is not going to solve a tantrum. Instead, and especially if you are in a public place like a restaurant, try to withdraw from the triggering area for a while until the child is calm. Sometimes it means you will need to leave the restaurant if it really is not getting better. This too shall pass.
I hope you these tips help you work around any picky eater child in your life!
Question time! Tell us about the craziest experience you have had with a picky-eater! It will help the other see that are not alone. Leave your answer below, I would love to hear from you guys.
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