Toddler eats: 5 ways to overcome a picky eating phase

3. Keep mealtimes interesting. On Wednesdays, we eat pink... salmon, strawberries, and watermelon, that is! 

Toddler eats: 5 ways to overcome a picky eating phase

During the toddler years, as children are gaining autonomy, they often test their new independence by eating or not eating the meal you set before them. It is completely normal for your toddler to love scrambled eggs one week and have nothing to do with the same exact eggs the next week.

As long as your child is growing and developing well, there is no reason to be alarmed at these feeding behaviors.


Here we discuss the top five things you need to know to survive this stage—and when to worry about your child’s picky eating being more than just a normal phase.

It is normal for your ‘perfect’ eater to become more ‘picky’ around 15-18 months.

It is natural for most babies, who would previously eat anything you put in front of them, to become more selective and only prefer a few foods, particularly carbohydrates, at this age.

Most small children really don’t need very much food, since their growth slows at this stage.

In general, by age two, toddlers should be eating three healthy meals and two snacks a day, with the average two-year-old (boys and girls) requiring about 1,000 calories a day.

Keep meal times stress-free (no matter how challenging they are to you).

Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and family therapist, pioneered the evidence-based “Division of Responsibility” model, where parents determine the what, when, and where of feeding, and the child then determines how much they will eat.

A parent’s role in feeding includes making food, offering food and drinks only at meal or snack times (besides water), leading by example, and not catering to children.

She believes children will then eat the amount they need, innately regulating their own food intake.

Keep mealtimes interesting and consistent.

Involve your child in mealtimes. Use cookie cutters, dipping sauces, muffin trays or bite-sized portions, colorful plates, or natural food coloring.

Try offering the same food indifferent ways: steamed, roasted, with a favorite dipping sauce, or have your toddler make her own fun food creations.

Involve your child in food preparation to spark interest in the meal, or have them go grocery shopping with you.

Pick a color day. For example, on “pink days,” eat beets, strawberries, salmon, and watermelon.

Encourage your child to try new foods many times. Don’t give up or become frustrated if it doesn’t happen the first, second, or even tenth time! Offer small portions of the new food with old favorites. Over time, kids may grow to like foods that they initially avoided!

There is no reason to become a short-order cook at mealtimes for your picky eater, since this may further encourage bad behavior. Offer two healthy choices, and if rejected, just try again tomorrow.

Toddlers will be okay and will not starve if they skip a meal once in a while.

Minimize distractions at mealtimes, such as television and tablets.

Serve meals and snacks in a routine way, preferably at a table with others, and avoid snacks or sweetened caloric beverages, such as juices and sodas, between those times.

Be a role model.

Model the behavior you would like to see in your children. If you expect your kids to eat a plate of veggies, you should also serve yourself veggies.

If you are stressed, your child will feel it, and the meal may turn into a stressful experience for everyone!

Monitor your child's growth.

If you are concerned about your child’s intake, whether you think your child is eating too much or not enough, speak to your pediatrician to review your child’s daily intake.

Pediatricians will plot your child’s height and weight on a growth chart to determine if they are following, give or take, a consistent percentile.

The current recommendations for which growth chart to use depends on the age of your child.

The World Health Organization (WHO) growth charts are now recommended from birth to two years, whereas the Center for Disease Control (CDC) growth charts are used from two to 18 years.

If your child is not growing along a consistent curve, is not gaining weight as expected for his age, or has dropped significantly in weight percentiles, it may be necessary for your child’s pediatrician to assess her nutritional intake and take a history to decide what further testing, if any, may be needed.

Article co-written by Dr. Dina DiMaggio and Dr. Anthony Porto.

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