Trying to feed a toddler can be a headache. One day they will enjoy trying a certain food, the next day it will end up on the floor throwing it in disgust. As stressful as this can cause, this phase is often part of a normal phase that your child will go through with the appropriate support from a parent. This blog provides tips on how to deal with a picky eater and provides easy recipes to serve to your toddler.
Why isn’t my toddler eating?
For the first two years of your child’s life, they depend on you to eat. Whether bottled, breastfed or solid foods on a baby spoon or fork, their calorie intake is completely in your hands.
There comes a time when toddlers develop their own opinions and gradually become more independent. They create their own opinions, habits, thoughts, feelings and emotions about many things. More importantly, they can express how they think about certain things, including what they eat.
As you’ve probably learned with your newborn or infant, kids like routines, and anything that deviates from a routine can meet with resistance. The same concept applies to food: Introducing new fruits and vegetables often results in a pushback from your child.
Some picky eaters also dislike certain tastes, smells, and textures. Some toddlers prefer crunchy foods while others like soft foods. For whatever reason, some toddlers prefer their food not touching. For an easy solution to this problem, buy plates with separate compartments.
Children also tend to follow their parents’ example, which makes parenting style beneficial for picky eaters. Examples include strict parents who offer their children only certain foods and have them finish certain foods before they can have more.
In more severe cases, behavioral problems can manifest as picky eating. In reality, picky eating is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Some children with behavioral problems refrain from eating food as a way of behaving.
How to get a child to eat if he refuses?
Consider these tips when trying to encourage your toddler to eat.
- Food should be fun: First things first – don’t force children to eat. Food should feel safe for children, not uncomfortable. The more stress placed on eating, the more likely you are to create fear for your child at the dinner table.
- Strive for repetitionChildren like routines, so stay on top of food intake by feeding your toddler three meals a day plus two snacks. Spreading out meals will ensure that they are not too hungry or too full when it comes time to eat.
- Always start small: Portion sizes should be miniscule when it comes time to introduce new foods. Instead of throwing several celery sticks on a plate and expecting your child to eat them, offer them a small piece. In this way, there is no expectation of eating a large amount.
- Let your toddler be curious: It is easy for a small child to stick out his tongue and pronounce the word “yuck” when he encounters something unpleasant. Instead of accepting this response, dive deeper and ask them what they don’t like about it. Maybe it’s the texture or the smell. To counter this, lead by example and describe how certain fruits and vegetables look, feel, and smell. This can help reduce the fear of trying new foods.
- When in doubt, try again: Be patient when offering new foods. It may take 10 to 15 separate attempts for your toddler to enjoy certain foods. Also, don’t be afraid to get creative. Try another recipe with tricky foods.
- Don’t treat dinner time like a restaurant: Cook meals for the whole family, not individuals. It is important to remember that you are not a chef in a restaurant, ready to prepare meals on demand. In other words, if your child doesn’t like the food on offer, don’t feel obligated to cook anything special. Giving in to their demands is unlikely to change eating habits.
- Involve your child in planning and cooking: Engagement is key. Take your child to the grocery store to pick out foods they like. Stick to the outer aisles where fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are displayed. Choose a recipe together at home and ask them to help you. Even something as simple as opening a package can give them a sense of accomplishment. Other examples include stirring in a bowl, measuring an ingredient, or counting how many fruits or vegetables to use in a recipe.
- Set a good example: Your child is more likely to be interested in the foods you eat, so be open to trying new things on your own. Eat these foods in front of your toddler so they know they are not alone on this journey. Asking them to eat veggies while bringing in a burger and fries is not a good example.
- Force-feeding is not the answer: Kids need calories to fuel an active lifestyle, which can increase stress levels if your child isn’t eating enough. However, the answer is not to let them sit at the table until their plates are clean. If you do this, you create a negative association and experience with food, neither of which helps. There is always the next meal or day to make up for those calories.
- Don’t take it personally: It’s easy to beat yourself up and think you’re a bad parent when your child becomes a picky eater. However, children become children – often regardless of how you raise them. Do your best to teach them about food and leave the rest to them.
- Avoid using desserts as stimulants: Food is not a game and should not be treated as such. The goal is not to earn a reward in the form of a dessert at the end of a meal. Bribing children will only lead to future bad habits and make them more likely to develop bad eating habits – they will learn to value desserts over other nutritious foods.
- Limit distraction: Turn off the TV and put the phones away when it’s time to eat. This ensures that everyone at the dining table is available and free of distractions.
- Appearance is key: As children develop, their brains absorb everything. Objects and colors are always stimulating. Use this to your advantage by offering them colorful foods and food in the form of fun items. Carrot sticks, for example, are easy to handle and a great option for dips. Instead of making a regular sandwich, cut it into smaller triangles to make it more appealing.
- Be creative with couplesYou will soon find that your toddler loves sweet and savory foods, but they may frown on sour or bitter foods. To avoid this, combine sweet with sour foods or salty with bitter foods. For example, cruciferous vegetables are more bitter than most vegetables. Try serving broccoli or cauliflower with cheese, which imparts a salty, umami flavor. Likewise, sprinkling sugar on a grapefruit can help balance out the bitterness.
Recipes for a picky eater
What one toddler likes may not be the same for another child. In other words, a specific recipe may work for your child, while another child may spit it out. That said, testing new recipes is a trial and error process.
If you’re not sure what to make, here are three recipes to try at home.
Baby pasta bolognese
Simple pasta or pasta with butter and cheese are always hits among toddlers. This recipe takes that basic concept and tweaks it for a more complete meal—ground meats for protein and vegetables for vitamins and minerals. If your kid doesn’t like veggies, don’t worry, the rich, meaty sauce will hide the carrots and celery.
Homemade hot bags
At the height of their popularity, Hot Pockets were ideal for parents and children alike – they were convenient for parents and kids loved the taste. However, the list of processed ingredients hardly made these snacks healthy. This version cheats a bit with store-bought pizza dough, although you can control how much cheese and meat goes in it.
Baking tray quesadillas
These easy quesadillas make for a great snack and won’t take you 30 minutes over the stove. Although this is a simple cheese quesadilla, you can adjust the recipe to your liking. Throw in beans for extra fiber or shredded chicken for extra protein. You can even try to smuggle in peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Some toddlers prefer certain textures, so feel free to tweak the recipe if they prefer a crispier quesadilla or a softer version.
While raising a picky eater is stressful, most toddlers still get the nutrition they need over the course of several days or a week. However, in some cases, picky eating can lead to bad habits that lead to future medical conditions. For example, chronically snacking instead of whole foods can increase your child’s risk of an eating disorder or diabetes.
Talk to your pediatrician if you are having trouble controlling your toddler’s diet. They can provide eating tips and tricks and, in more severe cases, refer you to a pediatric dietitian for further testing.