When my twins were first learning to eat solids, it seemed like they would eat anything. I was thrilled and congratulated myself on a job well done. A few months later the congratulations turned to disbelief as they started throwing food on the floor, spitting it out, and simply refusing to eat what I wanted. While part of the new behavior may stem from changes in taste, it was clear that my twins were exercising their new found talent of choice. They suddenly discovered that a small part of their life is under their own control and they can refuse something. Interestingly, my very different twins choose different food to refuse. My daughter continues to eat asparagus, cauliflower and any veggie I offer her, but refuses bananas and watermelon. My son on the other hand thinks I must be crazy when I offer him veggies, but will happily eat any fruit I put in front of him.

Feeding a toddler can be a challenge, especially because you are establishing eating habits that may last a life time. You can approach your child's eating in many different ways, and it's important to consider how your approach may affect your child later in life. There are two ends of the spectrum when it comes to feeding your toddler.

The Short Order Cook - This parent offers their child food, and if they refuse to eat it quickly, rushes to the fridge to prepare something new. The parent may do this because they are afraid of their child's weight or they are afraid the child won't sleep through the night. The positive is that your child is usually well fed. The problem with this approach is that the child quickly learns that they are in control and can simply refuse the food until they get what they want. This may mean skipping over their veggie until they get to the last resort of chicken fingers. They are most likely not receiving a balanced meal because they may be choosing the same thing over and over and over.

The Controller - This parent offers their children dinner in a 'what you see is what you get' manner. The toddler may be required to sit in their seat until they've eaten something, or if they don't eat what's in front of them, they don' eat. The positive is that your child may eat a few bites of their veggies if that is what is offered. The negative is that the child may rebel by refusing to eat anything causing the child lose weight. It also becomes a power struggle between the parent and the child that can set the pair up for difficulties in other parts of their relationship.

So what is the solution? You want your child to eat a healthy diet, you want your child to develop healthy habits, and you want meal times to be an enjoyable time for your family. Since every child is different here are a number of ideas that I have used and ideas I've gather from other mothers to help you picky eater:

  • 1. Offer a variety of food at each meal (4-5 different things) including something you know your child likes. This may be something like: cut up fruit, a steamed veggie, pasta, yogurt, and an avocado. If your child chooses to eat none of the options then offer them a glass of milk and end the meal.
  • 2. Offer food items one at the time, starting with the food your child likes the least. Sometimes a whole meal is too overwhelming and your child will have an easier time with just a few pieces of food.
  • 3. Try food your toddler doesn't like more than once. Just last night I gave my twins salmon. My son took one bite and spit it out. A few minutes later I offered him another bite and he happily ate it.
  • 4. Combine foods you child doesn't like with foods you child does like. For some ideas see How to get Your Toddler to Eat a Healthy Diet
  • 5. Don't assume that because your child didn't like peas last week they won't like peas this week - keep trying.
  • 6. Be patient with experimentation. Your toddler is curious and may want to smear, smash, sniff and wipe their food before eating it. While this is messy and you want to teach table manners, but if you make a huge deal out of this, you are likely to experience more of this behavior.
  • 7. Change the way you serve the food. Allow your child to feed themselves with their fingers, use silverware, or feed them with a spoon.
  • 8. Don't despair when your toddler goes through a stage. Your toddler may only want white food, or stringy food, or breakfast foods.
  • 9. Remember to think of your child's diet over several days. While it is ideal for them to eat a balanced meal every day, if you child refuses all vegetables for a day, don't despair and try to get some veggies in the next day.
  • 10. Offer healthy snacks. This can be done with a nibble tray. Keep veggies, fruits, and other items cut up and ready and put out a few of each thing a snack time.
  • 11. If you cut food in small pieces, cut it in strips, anything to change the way the food is presented. You can also get kids to dip, spread, or drink food.
  • 12. Eat together as a family. You may be amazed how much your child will mimic your behavior even at meal time.
  • 13. Offer choices. At this age your child needs immediate choices. Don't ask them what they want for dinner and expect them to remember their choice 30 minutes later. Instead hold out two fruits and ask what they want. Then cut the fruit in front of them.
  • 14. Get your toddler involved in the process. If you are serving pasta and want to put cheese on top, get your child to put on the cheese. Even small children can help to wash fruit and veggies. Put snack in a place your child can get to such as a low shelf. You can take this all the way and get your child to help plant a vegetable garden.
  • 15. Change up the place your child eats. Have a picnic (on the back porch), supply your child a small table and chair where they can eat.
  • 16. Teach your toddler sign language. Some of the basic signs such as more, eat, milk, and done, can help your child gain a sense of control.
  • 17. Give your toddler good food. When you serve their food look at it and make sure you would eat it yourself.
  • 18. Don't bribe, sneak or force food on your child. If your child consistently is not getting enough of one type of food, get creative with how you cook this food.
  • 19. Don't make too big a deal out of anything. My husband hates when food is thrown on the floor, but every time he makes a big deal out of the behavior it seems to increase. It is important to choose your battles. If something is very important to you, stick with it, but if it is becoming a power struggle rethink how you are approaching the problem.