If you’re having trouble getting your little one to eat variety or to try foods other than their current few faves, here are some ideas for you to try—and tips to know when to reach out for help.
Oh toddlers, with their quirky food habits. I’m sure that your toddler has his or her favorite foods, and that those favorite foods sometimes do an about face when you least expect it. Let’s remember that it’s normal for your toddler to want to eat what’s familiar to them. It’s normal for them to prefer certain foods over others. It’s normal for some textures to be tricky.
This is part of the process of them learning to eat a variety of food—and of your process teaching them to be a healthy eater. It all takes time (though I realize that knowing that does not make the logistics of feeding them dinner easier!)
Best Tips for Helping Toddlers Eat a Range of Foods
Here are some things to try if you’re wanting to expand your child’s eating out from just a narrow selection of foods.
1. Vary their favorites.
I know that it’s tempting to give your little one strawberries every day when they are just loving them, but there will always come a point when they decide that they don’t want them—and it’s even likely that they will decide they don’t want them ever again. You can prolong their interest in a food if you don’t let them have it quite as much. So blueberries one day for breakfast and a different fruit the following day. Even if they don’t eat the other fruit, they will be learning that we eat a variety of foods—and sometimes you simply run out of their favorites.
TIP: I simply try not to serve the same food for the same meal two days in a row to more naturally incorporate some variety.
2. Change up snacks.
My oldest girl would eat Cheerios and raisins for every snack if given the choice. But the more she has them, the less she is willing to try other foods. So I have an every other day rule that we do our best to stick to. You’d be surprised at how willing she is to go along with this, especially since she always knows she can have them again soon. I give her the choice between two other snacks and that’s that.
TIP: I find it to be very helpful to regularly offer the kids their favorites so they don’t feel restricted, but to also remind them that eating different foods is fun and yummy!
3. Offer favorites with other foods.
If your kiddo only wants crackers and you regularly only give them crackers, they will come to expect only crackers. (And I’ve found that after two days of doing the same thing, you’ve created a toddler routine!) Try to include another food or two with their favorite so they are always reminded that we sometimes eat other foods. It’s okay if they don’t always eat it, but you might just be surprised.
TIP: This is also a simple way to help them eat a variety of food groups throughout the day and fill their bellies between meals and snacks.
4. Talk about variety.
It’s important to talk to your kiddo about their food, and that we eat different foods to help our bodies grow strong, even if they seem too little to understand because they pick up on so much from a really early age. The more you can get into the habit of this, the more it will become routine and the better they will understand why certain foods show up on their plates. And try to give them choices between snacks, especially when trying to encourage them to branch out.
TIP: Offer two choices to keep their little brains from being overwhelmed is a great option. Say something like: “Would you like a banana or applesauce today?”.
5. Take baby steps with new textures if your kiddo is wary.
If your kid doesn’t like creamy things (mashed potatoes, pureed soups, yogurt), start by serving those foods with some texture mixed in. Serve just a little soup stirred into grains, leave the potatoes really chunky, or drizzle a little yogurt over fruit. Or, if they don’t seem to like meat, try just a little ground meat with black beans on Taco night, a small amount of cubed chicken in their pasta, or thinly sliced salami. Keep portions really small and remember that learning to enjoy new textures is a process—and that it might be okay if your kiddo doesn’t like everything!
TIP: Read more on helping toddlers with texture aversions here.
6. Let a particular food run out…
If you really, really are frustrated by how many crackers/fruit snacks/etc your kiddo is eating, you can make the choice to not buy them. Maybe you don’t boycott them forever, but foods will likely run out at some point or another and if you remind the kids that you can get them at the store when you are there next and help them choose something else, things will likely be fine. Yes, they may have feelings about this, but it’s a normal part of life to not always have Goldfish on hand for every single snack.
TIP: Find simple tips for helping kids try new foods here.
7. Know when to reach out for help.
If you are worried that your child is only eating a few foods, I recommend writing down everything they eat for a few weeks. If the list is smaller than 20 foods, it might be very helpful to reach out to a feeding therapist (like my friends at Sunnyside Up Nutrition or Thrive with Spectrum.
I’d love to hear your feedback on these tips, so please comment below. Find more on helping kids through the normal phase of picky eating here.