10 Tips for Dealing With a Picky Eater
If there’s anything I know about toddlers, it’s that they’re all about control.
After all, they don’t call it the “Terrible Twos” for nothing.
Toddlers love to push buttons and one of the things they love to decide what they will or will not do (besides sleep and use the potty) is eat.
Picky eating has always been an epidemic in my home.
It caused arguments between my spouse and myself, it drove me to the verge of insanity, and it caused a lot of stress between my toddler and I.
But, over the past year, I got smart. I talked to other moms, doctors, experts, and I’ve conducted a lot of reading and research. And, things have been amazingly successful so far.
So, I put together my top 10 tips for dealing with a picky eater.
These tips include strategies, recipes, and just overall advice that will stop you from losing your mind and your patience!
Tip #1-Play Up Aesthetics
Toddlers are very visual. They love colors, patterns, and prints of all sorts. One way I got my son to try new foods (and eventually like them) is by making his food look pretty. I did this in a variety of ways.
I used several different serving plates, to keep meals fresh and fun. Some of the plates had his favorite characters or objects on it (Mickey, dogs, dinosaurs, etc.). Some of them were portioned off into small sections, so I could include his sandwich in one section, and veggies/fruits in another.
He thought it was visually pleasing, neat, and appreciated when all his foods didn’t touch and blend together. Sectioned plates are also beneficial for getting toddlers to try new dips or sauces like hummus, honey mustard, or barbecue.
I also created various “pictures” out of his food ingredients. One day, I’d make a rainbow of fruit on his plate, while other days I’d make a happy face on his pancake or spell his name out of carrot sticks.
There are tons of ways to get creative and make your child’s plate visually pleasing so their interest and curiosity is captivated and they may be more inclined to sample what’s in front of them.
Tip #2-Limit Favorites on Plate
I can’t stress this enough—limit their favorites! I remember thinking that my son would never get out of his food rut. And, he did. Just slowly.
But, we’re making progress and that’s what counts. This is partly because I didn’t always cave in and give him his favorite, preferred foods.
I will give him a grilled cheese (his food of choice), but will only give him half a sandwich. The rest of his plate is filled with new foods to try (like kiwi and/or cherry tomatoes), and other healthy samplings.
This way, I know my son will eat what he likes, but if he’s still truly hungry, he’ll forced to try or consume whatever else is on his plate.
When he asks for more of his favorite portion, I tell him he has to try all the foods on his plate first. If he does (and much of the time, he doesn’t love the foods he samples), he’ll then “earn” the rest of his sandwich. If he is not willing to try the foods, he does not get the other half of his sandwich.
I sometimes feel “mean” for doing this. But I also remind myself he’s never not going to break away from his picky eating habits if he’s not trying new foods.
The saying is, “Hunger never saw bad bread,” right? Just think about it!
Tip #3-Stop Snacking
Often times, kids can afford to be picky eaters because they just aren’t hungry enough to try or fully eat what’s in front of them. So, stop offering snacks between lunch and dinner.
My pediatrician often said that my son needed to be good and hungry for each and every meal as a picky eater. And, once I removed the snacks, I noticed he nearly clean his plate and almost always try anything on it now!
Still not working for you? Offer an evening snack as an incentive.
If your child eats their offered dinner, let them choose a favorite snack before bed. If they don’t, put the plate in the fridge and reintroduce it before bed time in place of a night snack.
My son often gave into his hunger at that point and ended up eating the remainder of his dinner. Who cares if it was 7:00 at night?
The important thing to me was the my son was realizing that if he didn’t eat or try his dinner, it wasn’t going to disappear and a snack of his choice was not going to magically appear each evening.
Tip #4-Share a Plate
I noticed that my son loved to eat off my plate. I mean, he would try absolutely anything I was eating because it wasn’t served directly to him (I’m sure there’s some psychological explanation for this). It was a casual way for him to sample (and eventually steal) what I was having.
So, each day, I’d nonchalantly sit next to him at the table while he was eating lunch and eat my lunch as well. I always made sure I was eating something new and different from him (but healthy).
He’d casually reach over or show interest in what I had. So, I let him try my veggie burger, my salad, a piece of cauliflower—you name it. He even stole my piece of tilapia one evening!
I was shocked. I think it was the “thrill” of thinking he was taking what was mine (stinker!). But, little did he know, I had more for myself to eat on another “waiting” plate, and the joke was really on him. Ha, ha!
Tip #5-Play with Dipping Sauces
When my son was eating chicken nuggets, I always provided a bunch of dipping sauces for him to explore with. At first, he ignored the ketchup, ranch dressing, avocado dip, and barbecue sauce. But, eventually, his curiosity took over and he was sampling everthing in front of him.
Kids love the act of “dipping.” So, this is a great way to introduce bean dips and other spreads or dips. It builds up their palette and opens them up to trying new things.
Once your child tries some new dips, place a few carrot or celery sticks on their plate. My son was dipping away in no time. And, he eventually learned and wanted to take some nibbles and bites out of the veggies!
Tip #6-Don’t Force Feed
Resist the urge to shove food in your child’s mouth—even if you’re sure they’ll love what you gave them. This will only make matters worse, especially if they are trying to be in control.
Keep in mind that you certainly don’t love everything you eat. And some flavors or textures may not sit well with you. The same thing happens to kids.
All you can ask for is your child to try a food. If they don’t love it, fine. Try again a few other times.
In fact, my doctor told me that it takes nearly 14 times for a food to be presented to your child before they may actually try it! And, it could take even longer for them to accept it and like it once they tried it.
The key is to remain calm, cool, and collected. Do praise your child up and down for trying something new, and don’t punish them if they end up not like it.
Create a healthy plate filled with options and let your child navigate it on their own.
Tip #7-Videotape Them
Sounds weird, right?
But, toddlers are so ego-centric. I tried this strategy when I noticed my son loved to watch videos taken of him riding his tricycle, dancing, and singing. So, one day I put carrots, peppers, dip, and ham on his plate (he hated all of the above—allegedly).
I asked him if he’d like me to videotape him trying each food. To my surprise, he agreed (with a smile). I praised him, and made it a huge deal when he took a bite out of his bell pepper and he started getting excited too and was smiling and clapping his hands.
Before I knew it, his plate was clean. And, he loved watching the video over and over again. It may not work for everyone, but it certainly worked for me.
In fact, whenever I want him to try something new, I tell him I’m going to get my camera and tape him. He’s tried many new foods this way!
Tip #8-Set a Good Example
Get rid of fatty, sugary excess around your house! If you want your child to be a healthy, non-picky eater, then you need to set a good example.
Show your child that you eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and meats. Ditch soda and other sugary drinks. Chug plenty of water throughout your day and don’t allow anything in your home that may distract your child from healthy eating habits.
They can't be picky if they know they are able to be choosy. If it’s not in your home, it’s not an option to be eaten.
Tip #9-Cook With Your Child
Toddlers love to help. And, they can very much be a part of the cooking process.
This is a great way to teach them about food and allow them to sample things in a non-confrontational way. Toddlers also feel a sense of ownership in the food that they help you prepare. So, let them get in there and crack an egg, stir up some oatmeal, cut some veggies, and mix up some batter.
Teach them how to make a smoothie filled with veggies and fruits, and enjoy a great big, cup with them!
You can even order a miniature apron, chef’s hat, children’s cooking knives, and pretend play pots and pans for their own mini kitchen. Once kids learn to accept and work with foods, they are less afraid of them at meal time.
Tip #10-Trick Them (No Fail Recipes)
When all else fails, trick them. By this, I mean find recipes that pack a lot of goodness in foods that you know your child will love and consume.
I often snuck eggs and tuna in my child’s grilled cheese. I made brownies out of black beans to get him some more iron. Make muffins with shredded carrots or zucchini. You can even make mac and cheese out of a butternut squash sauce.
Or, whip up smoothies that are filled with spinach and kale, amongst the milk, yogurt, and fruit. Tough times call for some creativity and a little sneakiness!
PIcky eating can seem like it will never end. But it does, and it will.
Try to stay positive, don’t lose your cool, and set a good example. While you’re waiting for this phase to cease, be sure to provide your toddler with a multivitamin that contains iron to ensure they are getting everything they need on a daily basis.
These 10 tips have helped me tremendously over the past year, and they can help you too. Some of the tips are a bit unconventional, but as moms, we have to get creative and really push the limits from time to time, ya know?
Whether you’re trying to make your breakfasts look more beautiful or sneak in some nutrients, there’s a tip above for every mom who feels as though they’ve tried it all.