Oh toddlers. Just when you think they love a certain food, they go and change up their preferences on you. This can be frustrating and logistically difficult from a meal planning perspective, and it can make you feel like they won’t eat anything at all!
When many toddler’s are between 1-2, they start to learn that they have power to voice their opinions, which is great in so many circumstances…but can be quite an adjustment at the table. They go from being babies who will eat so many things to toddler’s who throw offending food off of their highchairs onto the floor. And often, their list of accepted foods quickly shrinks, leaving you with a “picky” eater who won’t eat anything other than chicken nuggets or mac and cheese.
But here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be that way. If you can remember that this phase of asserting independence at the table is normal—really, almost every toddler goes through this at some point!—and remember a few helpful tips, you can manage this period of life with understanding.
To help us know exactly what to do when a toddler refuses a food they once loved, I reached out to Adina Pearson, RD of HealthyLittleEaters.com. Here’s what she had to say:
What to do when a toddler refuses foods they once loved
- Take a step back and look at the big picture. Recognize that this is normal. Toddlers typically reject get to a point where even foods they used to love get rejected. They may eat two whole bananas one breakfast and then not want to touch a banana for weeks.
- Consider your framing of “rejection” and “refusal” — it’s all temporary and it’s not personal. And refusing suggests a power struggle and doesn’t happen unless there is pressure. Choosing to not eat something is simply choosing to not eat something and has nothing to do with your parenting. It’s okay to say “no” to a food and by allowing your child to say “no” you are also allowing him to willingly say Yes in the future.
- Consider if you’ve been over-relying on a food, serving it day in and day out, possibly even multiple times a day. If so, try scaling back for a bit. Take it out of the repertoire, but only temporarily. If it hasn’t been over-used, continue to serve that food as often as YOU enjoy eating it. After all toddlers should be joining you for meals, not eating their own special toddler food on the side. Don’t let your child’s preferences dictate the foods your family is served, but be considerate and put something on your child’s plate they do eat.
- If your toddler turns his nose up at something on his plate, don’t make a big deal about it. Think of him as an “eater in training” and know that it takes a lot of repeated exposures over a long time for some kids to learn to like or re-like certain foods. Don’t give up or quit serving broccoli, peppers, salmon or rice or any food just because your child doesn’t normally eat it. He may surprise you when you least expect it.
Doesn’t that make you feel better? I recently had it in my head that my little one doesn’t like eggs anymore. But when I thought about it, it was simply that we’d been having less weekend breakfasts of scrambled eggs lately than we did over the summer, so she wasn’t having a chance to eat them as often. So one morning I made her some, offered them to her, and low and behold, she ate them. So think there’s also something to be said for getting out of our own way too!
Adina has lots of other awesome advice on her site, including this awesome series called Teaching Kids About Food and Eating.