Parenting comes with a variety of challenges. While it’s one of the most rewarding jobs, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when it comes to what may be viewed as a simple task – feeding your toddler. As babies grow into toddlers, children begin to let you know how they feel about things and this is likely to include their dislike for certain foods. As they are exposed to a wider variety of foods, they may not want to eat what you’ve prepared, or they may develop preferences for certain foods. While it can feel impossible to get toddlers to eat at times, there are a few tips that can help make mealtime go more seamlessly.
1. Your toddler may not like everything they try the first time around. Don’t give up if they refuse specific foods. Wait a few days and try re-introducing that same food. Children’s taste buds are constantly changing. In fact, it can take up to 10 or more times of trying certain foods before they really decide if they like it or not.
2. Set a good example for your toddler by eating a healthy, well-rounded diet. Growing children tend to copy what they see, and research shows that babies are more likely to eat foods they see their parents eating. I also recommend serving one meal for the family rather than catering to individual preferences. When possible, serve your toddler the same meal you are eating just in smaller portions and the appropriate texture.
3. Don’t let toddlers have free reign over meals or snack time. Given the choice, most children are going to choose unhealthy options such as cookies or sugary juices. Instead, offer them a few healthy options to choose from. This way they still feel like it’s their choice, but you are giving them a framework of healthy selections.
4. Getting kids to eat vegetables can be a challenge. Try sneaking pureed steamed veggies into foods like pasta sauce, oatmeal or smoothies. Children still get the nutrients, but the flavor is masked so they won’t even know the good stuff is in there.
5. Get kids involved in cooking. If kids have an active part in making dinner or snacks, they’ll be more inclined to try new foods or choose healthy options. Depending on their age, they can crack the eggs, help measure ingredients and dump items into a bowl.
6. Involve your older children. If your baby has older siblings, get them to help out by showing your toddler how fun it is to eat healthy foods. This can sometimes be enough to get them to try new foods. If you don’t have older kids, take advantage of when they are around (like at a party or family gathering) and offer your child new choices.
7. You might want to add a nutritional drink. If you have a really picky eater and are worried about them getting the proper nutrients they need, consider incorporating a toddler nutritional drink like Enfagrow NeuroPro. It’s made with real milk and has nutrients such as DHA, vitamin D, and iron, which helps meet daily nutritional needs.
8. Promote positive feelings and attitudes about food. Dealing with picky eating can be frustrating, but don’t “make” your toddler eat their vegetables. If they are very upset at the idea of eating a certain food consider a different approach. With older toddlers, you can emphasize that you want them to eat a particular food because it’s healthy and will help them grow big and strong.
9. Teach appropriate behavior. Even the best eaters can be picky at times. You want to be mindful of making sure your toddler learns the appropriate response to make when they don’t like a food. Teach them to say “no, thank you” as opposed to making a terrible face or spitting something out if they don’t want it.
Getting toddlers to eat can be a challenge at times, but hopefully these tips can help make the experience a little easier to swallow.
Nicole Avena, Ph.D., is a research neuroscientist and expert in the fields of nutrition, diet, and addiction. She is also an expert in diet during pregnancy, and childhood nutrition. Avena is Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and a Visiting Professor in Health Psychology at Princeton University. She is the author of three books, Why Diets Fail (2014, Ten Speed Press), What to Eat When You’re Pregnant (2015, Ten Speed Press), and What to Feed Your Baby and Toddler (2018, Ten Speed Press).