Caution, Picky Eater Ahead: 7 Tricks for Toddlers

 “What’s for dinner?” is a question that has been asked for centuries.

But depending on the type of tummies and appetites in your home, the answer may not always be clear.  How should parents of picky eaters tackle dinner or any other meal?

Picky eaters can vary in age, usually starting around age 2. Picky eaters can then grow and mature into picky adults. Children begin forming food habits, including likes and dislikes, as early as 2-years-old.  As a result, these years are a crucial time to develop healthful food habits. It’s a good time for moms and dads to give special attention and care.   

As a mother of a picky 7-year-old, I know first-hand the difficulties faced in the kitchen. Picky eaters (combined with a hungry belly!) make meal times go from family fun to war zone in no time. In my house, dinner time showdowns can last for hours.

As a parent, finding the line between tough love and giving in can be hard. Creativity and patience were the ingredients I used most in my recipe for success.  Take a look to see what may fit in your bag of tricks.

toddler-eating-chef-makingThink like a Turtle: Slow and steady wins the race. Remain patient and be consistent.  It may take a few tries to get your child on board with nutritious meals.

One Step, Two Step: Introduce new foods one at a time. Little tummies and taste buds need time to grasp new things. Avoid trotting out a conga line of new foods.

Chef in the Making: Children love to help cook. They love tasting and eating what they just made even more. Try having your little sous chefs pitch in when preparing meals.

At Your Service: Keep little hands busy by having your child help set the table. This can help create excitement about the meal about to be served. (It’s a bonus if it keeps them out of trouble!)

Old Faithful: When introducing a new food, always have a familiar food on the menu. Brussel sprouts and succotash in the same night might be too much for your 3-year-old. 

All Rules Apply: Apply the ‘one bite rule.’ That means that all family members have to try at least one bite.  Make a pact with your toddler that one bite will be enough, as you try to win them over.

Take a Stand and Invoke the Ban: Don’t let one child ruin your hard work with another by shouting “I hate green beans,” just as your picky eater finally gives in.  Ban your clan from saying negative things about foods around the dinner table.

Finally, as you prepare for your next meal, prepare yourself as well. Getting your children to try new foods can be difficult, but remember, it’s not impossible. Stay firm, but always remain patient and loving. You’ll be a food hero in no time!


Blog by Ashley Spence, dietetic intern from University of Maryland.