Kids eat right.

Coping With Picky Eating Phases

Contributors: Dayle Hayes, MS, RD
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Every parent of a young child has been through the pain of a picky eating phase: the time your child refused to eat anything except peanut butter for weeks, then announced "no more peanut butter!" Or the month when your child wouldn’t eat anything white and got hysterical if foods touched each other on the plate.

Toddlers Are Naturally Picky Eaters

All kids go through stages of being picky about food. Between the ages of 1 and 3, they are expressing independence about everything, including food. These frustrating behaviors are actually perfectly normal:

  • After rapid growth during their first year, toddlers start growing more slowly. They need less food and are less interested in eating.
  • Kids are hesitant or even afraid to try new items. They want to see, touch and think about it several times before eating it.
  • Toddlers are busy. They have a whole world to explore and it’s hard to sit for a meal. They are also very busy telling everyone "I can do it myself!"

Dividing Up the Responsibility

How can you ensure toddlers get the nutrition they need without going crazy? Take a deep breath and relax. Adults want kids to try new foods for all the right reasons; unfortunately, we often go about it the wrong way. Forcing or bribing children to eat foods rarely gets the desired result.

An adult's job in feeding kids includes buying and preparing a variety of tasty, healthful foods; offering regular meals and snacks; and making the eating environment as pleasant as possible. The rest is up to your children. Whether they eat, how much they eat and what they eat is their responsibility.

Children often are more open to new foods when everyone surrounding them is relaxed about eating. Although they may not eat perfectly every day, they tend to eat well enough over the course of several days or a week.

Making Meals and Foods Toddler-Friendly

There's no need to become a short-order cook or beg your child to eat green things. However, you can make eating more toddler-friendly.

  • Toddler-Size Their Eating Environment. Most young children are more comfortable in a booster seat so their legs don't dangle. They also like cups, plates, utensils and food servings that are the right size for small hands and mouths.
  • Turn Down the Noise. Toddlers are easily distracted by almost anything, including television, music, phone calls and loud conversations. Help your toddler focus on food by keeping things calm.
  • Think Bright Colors and Fun Shapes. Like adults, toddlers eat with their eyes first. Use cookie cutters and fun containers to make almost anything into an appealing shape, such as heart-shaped pancakes, mashed potato snowmen and fruit and yogurt parfaits, plus put a variety of colorful foods on their plates.
  • Keep Young Chefs Busy in the Kitchen. Allowing kids to help prepare meals with their own hands is one of the best ways to get kids to try new foods and to eat what's good for them.