Tips for Feeding Picky Toddlers
It is normal to be concerned about your toddler’s eating habits when they eat too little, demand the same foods over and over, or reject healthy foods. Many parents become desperate and resort to begging and bribery. Unfortunately, these short-term solutions work against developing good eating habits. There are a few practical strategies designed to help parents handle frustration associated with the picky eating habits and food preferences of toddlers.
Set Realistic Expectations
Understand that as your toddler develops good eating habits, their preferences and habits will be inconsistent. The amount of foods they eat, the food textures they prefer, and their food choices will vary from day to day as they develop. This is one way toddlers assert their independence and individuality. Recognize and anticipate these mood swings, as they are part of normal toddler development.
Anticipate Food Jags
A food jag is when your toddler insists upon eating the same foods over and over. Sometimes food jags may involve erratic fluctuations in food likes and dislikes. If your toddler only wants to eat few of the same foods over and over, don’t panic or make a big deal of it as long as the foods they insist upon eating are relatively healthy. Rotate acceptable foods while continuing to offer a variety of different foods. It is usually only a temporary situation. However, be concerned if the same food jag persists for months instead of weeks. Discuss this issue with your pediatrician.
Offer Small Portions
Remember, your toddler’s stomach is about the size of his or her fist. In her book Dr. Paula’s Good Nutrition Guide for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers, Dr. Paula M. Elbrit describes the portion size for toddlers as about the size of two walnuts. Large portions overwhelm toddlers, so avoid offering inappropriately sized portions. Allow your toddler to make choices from a wide variety of foods in a variety of textures, and present them in small portions.
Camouflage Undesirable Foods
Congratulations if your toddler loves vegetables. For many parents, getting toddlers to eat vegetables is a struggle. Present vegetables in a variety of ways, both cooked and raw. There are so many vegetables to choose from, so introduce a variety of veggies prepared different ways. Additionally, offer healthy but tasty dips for raw veggies like peanut butter, guacamole, and cream cheese. Of course, you can always go the sneaky route and conceal veggies in their favorite foods. For example, if your child refuses carrots but loves spaghetti, grate carrots into the sauce.
Never force your child to eat. The more you push a child to eat, the more they will. Patience, understanding, and good role modeling go a long way in helping picky eaters develop healthy eating habits and enjoy food.