For the first 18 months to two years of your child's life, you've diligently fed your child by either breast, bottle or spoon with everything being eaten quite agreeably. Then, suddenly, your toddler begins to refuse food. Of course, you worry. "Why won't my child eat? Have I done something wrong?" As a mother of three and a certified Integrative Nutrition Coach and the founder of Yummy Spoonfuls, I'm well aware of the challenges of picky eating.

Understanding that we all are quite literally what we eat, my two-sided approach to overcoming this particular toddler issue will help you provide your little one with the proper nutrition they need to fully thrive.


Why your toddler has become picky

If you have a picky toddler, you are not alone. The reasons for this sudden food aversion are both simple and complex:

  1. They're becoming more independent. Now that your child has started walking and is beginning to speak, they are developing a sense of independence and have the consciousness to act upon it. Whether your child likes a particular food or not, they can refuse to open their mouth, run away, cry in protest, throw a tantrum or do all of the above.
  2. They're becoming more intuitive. Toddlers can begin to notice a pattern with eating: most "good" foods are sweet and most unsweet foods are green. The vast majority of baby food products combine vegetables with sweet foods like apples, bananas or pears. A baby who has grown accustomed to eating such products develops a palate for sweet foods. When attempting to introduce a non-sweet green vegetable, that toddler will inevitably notice the difference and refuse it. Parents also tend to impose their own food hang-ups on children. For example, parents who do not like okra or brown rice do not cook those foods for themselves and therefore do not give them to their children. It's important for parents to remember that eating is a learned behavior beginning with the very first spoonful and reinforced with each and every meal.
  3. They're learning what they do and don't like. Your child may not be a fan of certain textures. Because eating is as much about tactile sensation as it is about taste, your child may not like foods that are too crunchy, slimy, soft, grainy, chewy and so on. If this is the case then your child's pickiness should be consistent across different flavors. For example, if they don't like crunchy foods, they'll refuse a sweet, juicy crisp green apple as quickly as they'd turn down fresh, crisp celery. The problem is not the pickiness but rather the way that pickiness is managed.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind when expanding your child's palate.

1. Don't stop trying to introduce new foods too soon.

Many parents aren't aware of the lengthy yet normal course of food acceptance in children. A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Diet Association revealed that 25% of mothers with toddlers offered foods only once or twice before deciding if the child liked it. Approximately half of mothers made similar judgments after serving new foods only three to five times.

Touching, smelling, playing with and spitting out food are all normal exploratory behaviors that happen before acceptance—and some kids simply take longer to try new food and develop a taste or affinity for it. Keep trying and eventually, your child will come around. Be consistent, don't give up and remember, this stage in your child's life is critical as the foods they eat now are key building blocks for healthy growth and development.

2. Bring home the food items you want your child to eat.

Your child can only be as picky as the food options that are made available to them. If you want them to eat more healthful foods, fill your refrigerator and pantry with what you believe are healthy, nutritious food options. You can also make life easy for yourself by stocking your freezer with convenient foods that don't skimp on taste and nutrition.

3. Expose kids to all varieties of foods.

Introduce your child to an array of food flavors and textures no matter what your own personal preferences or aversions may be. Your child may very well love some of the foods you dislike.

4. Don't provide too many food options.

Often parents of multiple children will make a variety of dishes for a meal in order to appease each child's individual tastes. This kind of short-order cooking habit is tiring, unsustainable and only serves to foster the habit you are trying to correct. There's no reason for any child to stop being picky if other options are always readily available. Unless your child has an allergy or sensory issue, then they should learn to try whatever you serve.

5. Don't supplement missed meals with junk.

Every parent living with a toddler understands the practice of "picking one's battles" but setting up healthy nutrition practices is a battle that should be fought to win. If your child refuses to eat a meal because they don't like the options available, try not to give your child junk food just to fill their belly. In time, those empty calories can become lifelong unhealthy choices. Your child depends on you to choose a balanced diet that is developmentally appropriate and fuels good health and happiness.

6. Treat every meal and snack time as an opportunity to nourish your child with good food.

Instead of viewing snack time as "treat" time, consider snack time a mini meal and feed your child accordingly. Again, give your child every opportunity to get acquainted with new foods. Avoid crackers and other convenience foods and try giving your child sliced carrots or bell peppers instead.

7. Make every eating experience enjoyable.

As many studies have shown, children who help with meal preparation are more likely to eat food they helped make, so let your child pitch in! Make cooking each meal a family activity by allowing your child to help. This is a great way to show your child that delicious food and healthy food aren't mutually exclusive. Prepare foods in their most delicious and visually-appealing form and be sure to take into account your child's texture preferences. For example, don't overcook string beans for a child who likes their veggies firm.

8. Don't force a "clean plate."

While you may be anxious about your child getting the necessary nutrients they need for growth and development, avoid forcing them to eat every bite you serve. Your child is not trying to frustrate you, they're simply learning as everything is still new and different to them.

Remember that for many kids, food acceptance takes time and this important stage in your toddler's life is absolutely normal. Also, forcing them to clean their plate causes a child to lose their natural sense of knowing when they are full, which can lead to overeating. Building healthy eating habits means respecting when your child is full even when you may think they've not had enough. After all, you can always serve any leftovers as a mini meal for snack time.

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When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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As mamas we want our babies to be safe, and that's what makes what happened to Glee actress Naya Rivera and her 4-year-old son Josey so heartbreaking.

On July 13, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department announced the 33-year-old mother's body was found at Lake Piru, five days after her son was found floating alone on a rented boat. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Rivera's last action was to save her son.

"We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point in her journey. It was at that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him onto the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water," Ayub explained, adding that Rivera's son was wearing his life vest, but the adult life vest was left on the unanchored boat.


Ayub says exactly what caused the drowning is still speculation but investigators believe the boat started drifting and that Rivera "mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat but not enough to save herself."

Our hearts are breaking for Josey and his dad right now. So much is unknown about what happened on Lake Piru but one thing is crystal clear: Naya Rivera has always loved her son with all her heart.

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