Welcome to the toddler picky eater phase, you are not alone and parents for years have struggled with how to make their picky eater toddler eat their food.
The simplest answer to “why is my toddler a picky eater?” is typically one of three reasons: 1. They are testing their boundaries 2. Toddlers don’t need a ton of food ALL the time – so they just aren’t hungry 3. They are sensitive to taste and texture and legitimately don’t like the food you are serving.
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Why is my Toddler a Picky Eater? – Explained
Let’s dig deeper into the reasons why your little angel has all of a sudden become a nightmare at the dinner table.
1. They are testing their boundaries
Toddlers’ jobs are to learn new things and part of that is learning what’s acceptable and what’s not. So as they learn about eating they may:
- Throw food on the floor
- Spend most of their time just moving things on their plate with their spoon
- Refuse to eat
- Only eat one thing
- Eat too much and feel overly full, or not eat enough and feel hungry
Patience is necessary at this stage.
Often your toddler wants to do things themselves, for example if you slice up a banana or apple your toddler may refuse to eat it, even though you know they love them. Instead of slicing them, offer them the whole banana and apple. They have probably watched you eat these pieces of fruit that way and want to do the same.
If your toddler feels in control of their choices they may be more likely to eat. Continue reading for how to give your toddler even more choices.
2. They just aren’t hungry
The “clean plate club” is a thing of the past. Force feeding children to eat everything on their plate is no longer best practice and allowing children to learn about hunger and feelings of fullness should be a priority.
If you force feed your toddler they may not only grow to resent a certain food, but you as well. Your focus as their parent should be on nutrition and portion control. Learning to eat until you’re full, not overly full, is a lifelong skill.
If your toddler had a big breakfast they may not be that hungry at lunch. Keep that in mind as you offer them food and the battle will be less stressful for everyone.
3. They are sensitive to taste and texture
Your toddler may be experiencing a time where food is overwhelming.
Remember only a few months ago they were only drinking milk and purees. Expecting them to all of a sudden love chicken stir fries is not necessarily realistic.
If this is the case, keep food simple and slowly introduce new spices and flavors. They may be attracted to a certain type of food and that is ok. If all they will eat is eggs for example that is ok for awhile. Just try adding things to the eggs like cheese or mild salsa and “hide” extra nutrition for now. See below for ways to sneak in those veggies.
Tips to turn your picky eater toddler into a great eater:
1. Include them in the Grocery Shopping and Planning
If you make food shopping exciting and give your toddler an opportunity to participate it may be easier to convince them to eat what THEY chose at the store.
Of course this doesn’t mean letting them run wild in the store picking out all the candy and cookies they want. But instead, when you’re in the fruit aisle let them pick between two fruits. The one they pick is the one that goes in the cart. Same with vegetables “do you want broccoli or cauliflower for dinner today?”.
You can even begin this at home and let your toddler look through the flyers with you. Cut out the picture of the fruit and vegetables that they select and glue them on a piece of paper together. This art project will become your shopping list. Bring the list to the store and praise them when they find their shopping list items and add them to the cart.
2. Include your Toddler in the Cooking Process.
- Put the Veggies out First
When offered a plate of a grilled cheese sandwich with carrot slices on the side, your toddler is most likely going to go after the gooey cheese sandwich.
So before offering the food you know they will go for first. Put out their vegetables first (add hummus or their favorite dip). If they think that is all they are going to get they may be more likely to at least try a carrot.
4. Have their Favorite Person Offer them the Food you want them to try
After refusing to eat chicken for weeks, my daughter’s aunt came over and offered her chicken and lo and behold my daughter gobbled it up!
Recruit your child’s role model, whether that be a parent, sibling, cousin etc, to come over during meal time and eat with them. If their favorite person is eating broccoli and loving it, chances are your toddler will try to emulate them and will eat it too.
5. Sauce it up!
Sometimes all you need is a little ketchup – Heinz now has a great no-sugar added ketchup that my daughter adores. Because there isn’t any sugar or high-fructose corn syrup I don’t feel bad when she dips her chicken or eggs in ketchup.
At least there are tomatoes in there!
Other no-sugar added sauces/dips that help encourage a toddler to try something new:
Sweet jam with stevia – add to toast or peanut butter sandwiches
Organic Tomato Sauce – mix this yummy sauce in with your toddler’s favorite pasta (hide extra veggies in the sauce! See below)
Hummus – hummus is fairly neutral and can be used to dip veggies, naan or pitas.
6. Hide Extra Nutrition In Your Toddler’s Favorite Meals You toddler will only eat macaroni and cheese? Add pureed cauliflower, squash, or carrots (vegetables that won’t change the color of the cheese) to it. They will never know!
Add chia seeds – these little seeds add very little flavor to food, but pack a nutrition punch – they are full of antioxidants, omega three fatty acids and fiber. They can be hidden the best in sauces and smoothies.
7. Let them drink their veggies
Thank goodness for smoothies. They hide all sorts of vegetables!
No one says your toddler can’t have a breakfast or lunch smoothie. Put them in a fun cup and let them think they are getting a treat, when really they are drinking their protein, fruit, vegetables and dairy. Here are some of my favorite blends:
- Green Monster Smoothie – 1 banana, 1 Cup of Spinach, ½ cup of 0% greek yogurt, 1 TSP chia seeds, 1 TBSP of natural peanut butter, ice, water
- Blueberry Smoothie – Banana, Kale, Blueberries, 1/2 tsp vanilla, ice, water.
Picky Eater Toddler Meal Ideas:
- Breakfast smoothie – mix and match berries or a banana, avocado, peanut butter and spinach
- Scrambled eggs and toast with a side of berries
- Bagel, jam, sliced orange
- Fruit flavored greek yogurt with chia seeds stirred in
- Crackers, cut up vegetables and hummus
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a side of grapes
- Cheese quesadilla with mild salsa
- Toddler Cheese plate – cheese, crackers, grapes
- Mac & Cheese – puree cauliflower, squash or carrots and add to the cheese sauce
- Pasta with tomato sauce – sneak in those veggies, puree carrot, celery, broccoli
- Homemade chicken nuggets (with ketchup for dipping) and corn
- Veggies and hummus
- Goldfish crackers and apple
- Apples and peanut butter dip (mix greek yogurt and peanut butter)
Picky Eater Toddler Meal Accessories
Here are a few of our favorite toddler meal time accessories for the “throw everything on the floor stage”. Our selection criteria included: easy to use and clean, colorful for toddlers, and safe – all are BPA free.
Why is my Toddler a Picky Eater? – Conclusion
Remember you’re not alone with having a toddler who is a picky eater. Kids menus at restaurants have chicken fingers, french fries and pasta for a reason – that’s what kids want to eat!
As the parent you will need patience, will go through a lot of trial and error and will also use your creativity! In the end, you’ll have a healthy, happy toddler who has at least tried many types of food, even if they still mostly eat pasta and bread (at least you’ve hidden some veggies in there) You’re nailing this parenthood thing!