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! Here are 5 things to try.
When Your Picky Eater Refuses Favorite Foods
When many toddlers 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. And since this often coincides with a normal decrease in appetite, they go from being babies who will eat so many things to toddlers 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.
Normal Picky Eating
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 and learn a few tips to help avoid the inevitable day when your toddler refuses foods they once loved.
Help for Picky Eaters
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 her advice to help your picky eaters.
1. 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.
2. Consider How You Think 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.
3. Ask Yourself: Have I been over-relying on certain foods?
Have you been serving favorite foods 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.
4. Continue to Serve a Variety of Foods
Don’t let your child’s preferences dictate the foods your family is served. Instead, be considerate and put something on your child’s plate they do usually like and that they’ve eaten before. Using “safe foods” in this way can go a long way towards making kids comfortable at the table.
4. Try Not to React
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.
The Key to Serving Healthy Foods to Kids
Doesn’t that make you feel better? I love the reminder that we don’t actually have to give in to the pleading for certain foods, or to write off entire food groups when our kids refuse them once or twice. I recently had it in my head that my older daughter doesn’t eat oatmeal anymore, which is a food she’s always loved. But when I thought about it, it was simply that we’d gotten out of the habit of having oatmeal together as a family for breakfast. We instated a loose breakfast menu, which includes oatmeal on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and just that regular exposure has made her an enthusiastic oatmeal eater again. Yes, we did need to add sprinkles to it the first time or two to make it enticing, but after that she was good!
If there are foods that your toddler won’t currently eat, but used to, try to include them in family meals regularly without pressure or prodding. Chances are, if you don’t make too big of a deal of the refusal and keep them in rotation, the kids will come back around in their own time.
Adina has lots of other awesome advice on her site, including this awesome series called Teaching Kids About Food and Eating.