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10 Ways to Inspire Your Picky Toddler to Eat


If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands, don’t worry- you aren’t alone. Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters. There are several reasons for this, and most of it boils down to the the developmental changes a toddler is going through and how it affects their eating patterns.

If you've got a picky toddler on your hands (and most are!) here are 10 ways to inspire your toddler at the dinner table:

1. Keep portions small

Heaping piles of food are a turn off, especially if you don't have a big appetite. Toddlers have tiny tummies- about half the size of their fists. Sometimes I put just three bites of something on my 3 year old’s plate. It’s less overwhelming and it gives her a sense of accomplishment when she gets to ask for seconds (if I’m lucky).

2. Whip up some dip

Dipping keeps kids interested in what they are eating. Some great dip ideas are: cottage cheese mixed with a tablespoon of ranch dressing, hummus, ketchup (organic has a higher lycopene content, and watch out for high fructose corn syrup), guacamole, nut butters, or yogurt.

3. Mix up the presentation

My kids love eating from plates with lots of tiny compartments. Some other fun serving ideas include: muffin tins (you’ve got to check out Muffin Tin Mom!), ice cube trays, or a series of tiny bowls. Sometimes the novelty of the presentation is all they need to get inspired to eat.

4. Cut foods into fun shapes

My three year old loves sandwiches that are cut into fun shapes (hearts are her favorite). I keep a jar of kids cookie cutters on hand so she can pick out which shape she wants in her lunchbox. She also loves to eat “baby pancakes” that are the size of a silver dollar.

5. Grow your own food

Kids respond very well to eating fruits and vegetables that they have had a part in growing themselves. My parents have blueberry bushes that my toddler eats right off of, and both my girls love to pick off of our strawberry plants at home. But when I buy blueberries and strawberries from the store? They won’t touch them.

6. Ditch the fork

Again, it boils down to the presentation. Try sticking toothpicks in bite sized portions or threading food onto skewers. You can also check out this post on five great finger foods for toddlers.

7. Give your child choices, but not too many

Toddlers like to feel like they are in control. Offer you child two or three (max) healthy meal options. You decide what the options are, and the child decides which one they want. This is a great way to make your toddler feel like they have a say in what they are eating.

8. Don’t force new foods

I got this tip from a mom friend, and it has worked wonders. When a toddler tries a new food, don’t insist that they swallow it. Kids have very sensitive gag reflexes and if food grosses them out in any way, teach them spit it out politely and discretely into a napkin. They will be more open to trying new foods if they don’t have the fear of gagging on it. Remember: Children often need to be exposed to a new food many, many times before they can accept it, so keep trying!

9. Put it in a cup

If your toddler prefers beverages over food, then by all means: Make a smoothie! You’d be amazed by what you can hide in there. Try sneaking a little kale or broccoli in your toddler’s next smoothie. Apple juice and banana do a great job of masking vegetable flavors.

10. Finally: Relax

How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much bookYour job is to prepare healthy meals and serve them in an appealing way. How much and what your toddler eats is mostly up to them. Keep encouraging healthy eating habits, set a good example, and don’t sweat the small stuff. This is a passing phase and it will be over before you know it.

For more insight into the eating habits of children from birth through the teenage years, check out this book, “How to Get Your Kid to Eat, but Not Too Much” by Ellyn Satter.

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