Getting Your Toddler to Eat! A How-to Guide


During the toddler stage, your toddler will continue to discover new foods! At times, these discoveries will be met with joy, other times, resistance. If you find that your toddler is becoming picky, don't panic!! Read on for some perspective and helpful tips.

Facts about toddlers and picky eating

Toddlers and preschoolers can be very picky when it comes to food. It's common for young children to refuse to eat new foods or even foods that they once enjoyed. Some are very particular about which plate they use at mealtime,  or if their food is touching. It is frustrating as a parent, especially if you believe your child isn't getting enough. It may help you to understand what's going on behind the scenes at this age. 

Toddlers might not feel hungry.
Their growth significantly slows down in the second and third years. Consider this: your baby's weight tripled in the first year, but in the second, there may be a gain of only about five pounds. 

The toddler years are when kids are becoming more independent.
Does "no! I want to do it myself!" Sound familiar? Some picky eating is just the child exerting a newfound independence. 

Teething can make a toddler's mouth sore.  
Tooth pain, even just a little, can make food quite unappealing. 

Toddlers tend to fear new things.
Foods that look unfamiliar can be scary to them! *rolls eyes...* this is one of the reasons why toddlers like to eat the same food over and over and over and over and over and over...

Most toddlers are like goldfish- easily distracted.
Sometimes toddlers simply just do not have the attention span to sit through a long meal.

Toddlers love to push buttons and test limits! They want to see what happens if they refused to eat their meal or if they throw their food on the floor.

Instilling healthy eating habits

Just because it's normal for toddlers to be picky, doesn't mean you should give up and give into their bullshit. Now more than ever, it's important to help shape their healthy eating habits. Here are some strategies! 

  • Allow your child to decide how much food to eat. 
  • Offer foods that are helpful and tasty, then don't punish or scold the child who chooses not to eat. Avoid bribes: you're trying to teach your child to enjoy healthy foods, not to preform for a reward, such as "if you finish your vegetables, you can get dessert!"
  • Eat together! Serve yourself and your toddler child the same meal. Let your child see you enjoying all the healthy foods on your plate!
  • Have realistic expectations. For example, toddlers can't sit still for very long, so don't call your child to the table until their meal is at its place setting and ready to go. 
  • Don't worry. Your mission as a parent is to teach your child to become a healthy eater over the long term, not to get him to eat his broccoli on a Wednesday night. 
  • Don't give up. Your child may reject spaghetti sauce over and over and over, but don't stop serving it. Prepare it in different ways! Rose, Alfredo, basil infused rather than garlic. Enjoy yourself and eventually your child will try it again. (Really!) if you stop serving foods you think he doesn't like it, you'll never have the chance to be adventurous when he's ready.
  • Do your job, and let your child do hers. Your task is to provide healthy, tasty foods at meal times, and your child's job is to choose what and how much she will eat. Period. 
  • Make it taste good! Which would you rather eat? Plain, limp, over-boiled broccoli, or bright green, crisp- tender broccoli, drizzled with melted butter and sprinkled with salt or cheese? Guess which one your child is more likely to enjoy...
  • Let your toddler have a role in the meal planning and prepping. Without surrounding entirely to your child, let your toddler pick out the pasta shape or ask if they would rather broccoli or green beans with dinner? 
  • Indulge in their love for fun! Arrange foods on the plate in the shape of a :-), or cut foods into different shapes. 
  • Have a routine. Try to serve your toddler three meals and two snacks at the table and around the same time every day. When tots know what to expect, they feel more secure.
  • Don't force. Never pressure your child to try something or to clear his plate and punish him if he doesn't. This will only make meal times harder and what should be a pleasant activity, a battle. When your child is a little older you can make family wide "one polite bite" rules! But at this stage, prepare yourself to sit back and carry on with the meal if your child refuses.
  • Mealtime shouldn't develop into a standoff at the toddler stage. 
  • Mix it! Mix it good! At each meal be sure to serve at least one thing you know your child will eat, like whole-wheat bread, fruit or veggie salad, or milk. Don't cater the whole meal to your two-year-olds tastes, serve a well-rounded meal you'll enjoy eating. The point is to teach your child eat within the family structure, not to make the rest of your family like a toddler. 

When to get help

Most of the time, picky eating and toddlers is completely normal and nothing to worry about. But to hunt some occasions, especially if there is a concern about your child nutrition, growth, or feeding abilities, your paediatrician may refer you to a dietician. 

Here are some reasons why seeing a paediatric dietician might be helpful for your child: 

  • You are worried about your child's growth and food intake.
  • Your child is a very picky eater, omitting whole food groups from his diet, or has trouble tolerating certain textures, smells, flavours.
  • Your child has digestive problems.
  • You have trouble introducing certain foods or textures into your babies diet.
  • Your child has a health condition such as diabetes, developmental disabilities, chronic respiratory issues, tube fed.....
  • Your child has food allergies or sensitivities. In this case, it is important for your child's well-being to both avoid foods that may be potentially dangerous and fill the nutritional gaps that may occur in his diet. 

The best way to find a Registered Dietician who specializes in paediatrics, is to ask your doctor for a referral. You can also search the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, for a professional in you area.