Struggling with picky eaters is a universal problem for parents, and it can be disheartening when your toddler throws your carefully curated plate of vegetables and proteins on the floor or feeds them to the dog! Before you label your child as a picky eater there are tips and tricks you can try to set a foundation for lifelong healthy, adventurous eating habits.
First, be mindful of any labels, such as “She’s picky,” or “They’re shy”.
Keep in mind that behavior is communication and ask yourself what you can learn from what your child is doing. Rather than saying, “Oh, you don’t like peas!”, try sportscasting, which means simply narrating your child’s behavior.
“You’re pushing the peas away. You’ve thrown some on the floor. These peas are dirty now. We’ll try them again another time.”
Pea Tip: Offer your child a few frozen peas in their cold, straight-out-of-the-freezer state. We know loads of toddlers who prefer them this way!
4 tips for making progress with your toddler’s eating habits
Model trying new things for your toddler
Much like modeling drinking water for your child with a dining set, you can also model eating foods. For example, when you have a spoon, offer your child a spoon. They will learn from watching you eat. Lift your spoon slowly and bring it to your mouth as you model the behavior. As your child observes you eating a certain food, like broccoli, they may become more interested in following your lead.
Engage the senses to encourage acceptance of new foods
- Smell foods with your little one to pique their curiosity. Scratching the outside of fruits and vegetables, like a lemon rind, will make the lemon smell more fragrant.
- Have conversations with your child about the foods you’re eating to promote language development. “The pineapple is rough on the outside but tastes sweet. The pineapple is cold because it was in the refrigerator.”
- Touch the surfaces and make observations. “This is wet because we cooked it in water.”
Exercise patience with your toddler
Toddler eating habits can be frustrating! If your child spits out broccoli the first time it hits their taste buds – it doesn’t mean they’ll hate it for life – or even for the duration of their childhood!
According to studies, it can take up to 10 times of being exposed to a food before a little one will acquire a taste for it. A child may find a pear sour at first, but learn to love it after more exposure. Don’t give up on certain foods. Present nutritious foods that are flavorful, and don’t shy away from the savory.
As your child gets older, you can present food in different forms. Maybe your toddler doesn’t like cooked green beans but they’ll eat them raw, or with a little soy sauce on top. Picky eaters can be more willing to try foods if there is a fun dipping sauce like hummus or ketchup.
Introduce family-style meals
Sitting down as a group for a meal can be such an important, loving part of a child’s day. Sometimes dinner won’t work due to scheduling conflicts, so breakfast — or even just weekend meals can work better for many families.
A little one can soak up healthy habits and good table manners by dining family-style.
Family style is a meal in which everyone serves themselves from shared dishes.
A child can begin serving themselves when they can confidently hold a spoon. In the early stages, they will need plenty of assistance from mom or dad to help scoop food onto their plate. In eating this way, a little one will learn portion control and eventually to only take what they’re wanting to eat. In time your child will also learn social graces such as, “Please, thank you, and please pass the mashed potatoes.”
Get your toddler involved in food preparation
Involving your child in all aspects of meal prep is not only great for their independence, but they’ll actually be more likely to eat the food they helped make because they feel a sense of ownership.
Start by chatting with your baby at the grocery store about the items you’ll need. Let them smell and feel the produce. You can create a short grocery list for an older toddler. Start with two or three items of pictures on a piece of paper, like a milk carton, strawberry, and banana. Then you can help your child locate the items they’re responsible to find in the store.
When it’s time to cook, children can be involved in the process from a very young age. Usually, a child is ready to help around 15 months, when they are stable on their feet and can hold items in their hands securely.
Some tasks to teach toddlers:
This kitchen set of real tools is designed to help children develop the fine motor skills and practical life skills that will enable them to enjoy a variety of healthy foods, get comfortable with the sensory experience of different flavors and textures, and participate in family meal preparation.
Montessori Cooking Together Kitencourages little ones to build skills and confidence in the kitchen as they develop healthy eating habits
- Wooden Stand for Recipe Cards
- 10 Innovative Recipe Cards
- Child-Sized Wooden Spoon, Whisk, and Masher
- 3 Bowls for Food Prep, Small Pitcher, and Silicone Cutting Board
- Melon Baller, Spreader, and Tongs
- Egg Slicer
- Wooden Crinkle Cutter