5 Strategies To Help Picky Toddlers at Meal Time

Has your happy-go-lucky baby turned into a toddler tyrant at meal time?

You're not alone!

Having a picky eater at home can be challenging for the whole family.

If you’re stuck in a cycle of food refusal and meltdowns, try these five strategies for picky eaters to help you introduce new foods with greater success! 

1. Introduce one new food at a time

Introducing a new food to your little one can be exciting, but stressful- no one likes change! To minimize stress and increase the chance of acceptance, experts recommend serving only one new food at a time. Do so without making a big deal of the change, be subtle. Here are some of my favorite ways to do this:

  • Substitute a plain baked potato with a sweet potato, while keeping the rest of the meal the same.  
  • Serve a new protein, like salmon, alongside a familiar rice dish.
  • Add cut up berries to their typical morning oatmeal or yogurt 

2. Be patient! 

Just because your child refuses a food once doesn’t mean they’ll always refuse it! Don't give up; it can take 10 (or more!) encounters with a new food before your child will accept and eat it. So, keep serving new foods – allow your child to feed the senses.

Eating involves all the senses, not just taste. Here are some steps to try with your little one to gradually work toward accepting a new food: 

  1. Touch the food with a fork 
  2. Touch/feel with hands
  3. Smell it 
  4. Kiss it (bring to lips) 
  5. Lick it (touch with tongue) 
  6. Put food in mouth and take it right out again 

3. Combine an old food with a new food

Combining "old" and "new" foods to encourage acceptance is a great strategy. Try serving unfamiliar foods with a food favorite! If you know your child will eat green beans but hasn’t tried carrots, serve them side-by-side. If they reject the carrots, at least you know that they’re likely to eat the green beans. Plus, they’re gaining exposure to the carrots, which means they might try it in the future as it becomes more familiar to them.  

4. Involve your child

Getting children involved in what they’re eating can be fun for the whole family. Children are often much more willing to try a food if they've been involved in growing it, choosing it, or preparing it. 

You can start getting your child involved by growing your own garden and having your child pick out what they want to grow. You can also bring your child to the grocery store and let them choose a new food to try. 

To get your child interested in meal planning, you can talk about what dish you will make with what you grew or purchased from the store. Read recipes together and let your child pick out a few they want to try. 

Children can continue to be involved with the prep work and cooking the food. Allow your child to complete safe tasks appropriate for their age, such as washing leafy greens, peeling produce or arranging food onto plates.

5. Be a role model 

Children learn about foods and food preferences by watching the people around them! Though you may not realize it, your children are impacted by the food choices you make (and perhaps more importantly, the choices you don't make). By demonstrating that certain foods taste good, your child will be more likely to try those items too. This will encourage your child to eat better and be more willing to try new foods if she sees others at the table eating the same foods. Family members, including siblings, are important role models for healthy eating too.

If you're concerned that picky eating is compromising your child's growth and development, consult your child's doctor. Even with these five feeding strategies for picky eaters, it will take some trial and error before you may see progress.  Consistency is key, small steps each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.  You got this mama!


Lizzie O'Connor MS, RD,CDN 

Lizzie is a Registered Dietitian based out of North Carolina.  Lizzie graduated with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics from Central Michigan University. During her 5 years of practice, she has worked numerous hospitals, including Yale New Haven Health, providing nutritional counseling services to thousands of patients of all ages.

Through her own parenting journey, she became passionate about family nutrition, infant feeding, and the support parents need to feel confident and comfortable introducing and serving solids throughout their child’s life. She now offers nutritional counseling and information in her business Mama Dietitian. Check out more from Lizzie at http://www.lizzieoconnor.com or on Instagram @MamaDietitian.

Note: Guest blog posts are shared for informational and educational purposes and may not reflect the official policy or position of SlumberPod (parent company, Dovetail Essentials, LLC), our employees and/or contractors.

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