Don't fret mamas! Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters, something that often occurs as they grow and become more independent. Not every child will go through this stage, but many will. Some picky eating habits can last long past the toddler age, here's how to deal.
Picky eating may look like being resistant to new foods or going through periods where your child will only eat a few of the same foods repetitively (fries, chicken nuggets, crackers, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and mac n' cheese are all kid favorites). Because of this, many parents worry their child may not be getting enough nutrition, or eating enough to grow properly.
"Toddlers like to binge on one food at a time...[Children] from one to three years need between 1,000 and 1,300 calories a day, yet they may not eat this amount every day. Aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day." Ask Dr. Sears
If you find yourself worrying about your picky eater, know that there are ways to help your child become less food resistant and enjoy snacking on many different types of food.
3 Strategies to Encourage Healthy Eating Behaviors
"To get your toddler to stop being picky and try new foods, there are 3 essential strategies you need to consistently utilize.
- Create a positive environment for meals by not pressuring your child to eat.
- Follow a feeding schedule for meals and snacks.
- Let your child have the responsibility to choose if and how much to eat of foods you serve. Follow the division of responsibility." Megan Boitano Nutrition
The first thing to be aware of is the tone with which you address the problem. Though you are worried, don't act upset or pressure your child to eat.
Bribing them with rewards for "cleaning their plate," allowing distractions at the table such as a book or tablet, or guilting them to eat by saying "you need to eat this to grow big and strong," are all ways a child can be pressured. These methods often create stress for everyone and foster an unhealthy relationship with food in your little one. They encourage negative behavior and continued picky eating!
What we really want is to raise a happy, healthy eater who has a positive relationship with food. How can we do this while ensuring our child is getting adequate nutrition? By providing enough food, and different types of food for each meal, even if at first they refuse it. Your child will be able to consider everything provided and eat what is right for them.
Parent Provides, Child Decides
"One of the the most important feeding principles is called the division of responsibility. It clearly defines your role as the parent at meals. Your responsibilities are to decide when, what and where meals will occur. Your child decides if and how much to eat," says pediatric and family nutritionist Megan Boitano.
Remember to keep food servings small when portioning out a meal. Young children's stomachs are about the size of their fist, so measure out meals in this size. If they ask for more go ahead and give seconds! Pressuring small children to eat more than their stomach can handle, may again, lead to a negative relationship with food.
Another method of letting your toddler choose their portions is by allowing them to graze throughout the day. Babies are always on the move! During lunch or dinner time, consider letting them get their wiggles out grazing and playing. This is a healthy way to encourage eating.
Place bite-size colorful and nutritious food portions on a plate or tray and let them grab and nibble as they please. Meal time becomes their choice and a part of having fun. Continue the fun by choosing foods that can be dipped in or topped with different spreads, such as peanut butter, melted cheese, cream cheese, jam, guacamole or yogurt!
What to Feed a Picky Toddler
Young children's eating habits are inconsistent, count on it. But here are some nutrient-dense foods that most children, even the pickiest eaters, are willing to consume. Even if they don't eat a lot, they are still getting the nutrients they need. (Ask Dr. Sears) Incorporate a few of these items into every meal!
- Peanut butter
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Greek Yogurt
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