My daughter used to be a champion eater before she turned one. Then all of the sudden, she just became a picky toddler when it comes to food.
After nearly 2 years of mealtime meltdown, we finally figured out how to get my picky toddler to eat, and I can’t help but feel slightly proud of myself for cracking the code.
I used to coerce and bribe my daughter to finish her meals, but gone are those days (mostly). Nowadays, my daughter will eat most of the food that I serve her.
Here’s how I got a picky toddler to eat during mealtimes:
1. Be patient with new foods
For the first year or so, I would introduce new foods to my daughter and they always get rejected. She wouldn’t even touch some of them. On some days, she would put tiny bits into her mouth and spit them out again. I’ve learned that even though a toddler doesn’t eat a certain food, we should still serve it on the table because exposure counts too. It probably took me about 20 to 50 tries of serving a new food before she finally decided to give it a try. Teaching a toddler to eat well is a long game, so patience is definitely needed!
2. Introduce new food when they are happy and most hungry
There is such a thing called “eating window”. For my eldest, she is the hungriest when she wakes up in the morning. The first thing that wants to do every morning is eat. I also realized that she would be more open to new and healthier food options during this time as well, so I tried to serve the most nutritious food in the morning and I would be less worried when she doesn’t eat as much for the rest of the day.
3. Create a conducive eating environment
Tablets and devices are a source of distraction. While my kids do enjoy watching a movie during mealtimes, I try to limit screen time and have the entire family sit and eat at the table together. On days without the screen, my daughter ate better because she is more focused on her food.
4. Figure out what they like the best and incorporate it into meals
My daughter prefer crunchy foods and wouldn’t touch the softer vegetables, so I try to steam the broccoli and baby corn for a minute or so instead of boiling it. Whenever I introduce a new food item, I’ll make sure to incorporate her favorite foods on the side to ensure that there’s at least something that she would eat.
5. Serve easy-to-chew foods
Toddlers are still learning how to chew foods, so if a certain food item is hard, they are less likely to eat. For example, raw carrots are hard, and it might sense to steam or boil them lightly before serving them. Also, tough meats are hard to chew, so serving ground meat or patties can be an easier option for toddlers.
6. Allow your toddler to serve herself
This is kind of counter intuitive. Most parents would plate the food for their toddlers and give their kids no say in what they want to eat. One day, I placed all the different food items on bigger plates and put them in the middle of the table. My daughter enthusiastically served herself by picking what she wants to eat, and ate them all. By giving toddlers control over what they want to eat and how much they want to eat, they feel less pressured and are more likely to try out new foods. With this method, parents can of course control the type of food that they serve and where it’s offered, but allow the children to decide what and how much they want to eat. As parents, we need to relax when our toddlers don’t eat as much as we want them to. We need to understand that they will eat when they are hungry, and stop when they are full. By doing so, we are allowing them to learn to tune in to their own bodies.
7. Serve food deconstructed
This means serving the pasta, sauce, peas and chicken separately instead of mixing everything together. I have noticed that my daughter does not like “complicated” food like casseroles and lasagnas. Even when food items were mixed together, my daughter tend to eat each food group one a time if she can pick them apart. This goes back to the concept of giving toddlers control over their food. Deconstructed meals give them to option to pick what they want to eat first, and they will be less intimidated by the ingredients when they can build their own plates.
8. Prepare meals together
My daughter loves to help me in the kitchen, so I allow her to cut the vegetables. I’ve also noticed that she is more likely to eat something when she has seen how it’s prepared and has a hand in making the meal.
9. Make eating fun
When my daughter started to understand the concept of growing, I would talk about foods and how some superheroes eat it to be stronger. At mealtimes now, she would tell me that she likes to eat fruits and vegetables because she wants to be taller and bigger like mama.
10. Don’t make treats special
I’m not a big fan of sweets myself, but I do not ban or eliminate them. My daughter can eat sweets whenever she wants to, but I also explain to her that too much of it is not good, and she understands it. We serve M&M’s, ice cream or a cookie during meals if she wants them, but moderately. Over time, it became less of a special reward and she has stopped asking for them every day. Instead, she now prefers to finish her main meal first before eating her treats.
Nowadays, my daughter is still a picky eater in some ways but it is a big improvement compared to a year ago. She still eats only the icing off the cupcake, and leave the rest untouched, or eats the noodle but not the chicken, but this is something I can work with. I know that eating habits cannot be changed overnight, so being patient is key to promoting healthy eating habits.
Do you also have a picky eater at home? Leave a comment below! I would love to hear about your experience.