Picky eating comes with the toddler territory. If you have been blessed with an infant who would eat broccoli — and virtually anything you put inside their baby bowl — the thing is it does not necessarily mean they would grow up to be a voracious eater, too.
This is because when your baby turns into a toddler, they begin to develop their own sets of preferences. During this time, they are able to decide that, for example, they like sweet potatoes and dislike chicken liver. This is completely normal! Of course, this may also mean that your once easy eater may now be a fussy one.
This is one of the unfortunate realities of parenting (anything can happen!), but it can definitely be dealt with. If your toddler is showing signs of being a picky eater, and you are worried they are not getting enough nutrition, here are 8 things you can do to handle the situation.
1. Set a good example.
You may have a picky child in your hands, but instead of focusing on their eating habits alone, look at your own habits first. Your toddler is very observant, and they often learn best not by listening to you but by copying what you are doing.
This means that if you tell your child to eat their veggies but you’re not eating veggies yourself, then you’re not going anywhere. Set a good example for your toddler by eating healthy, too!
2. Establish regular mealtimes.
Another way to help your toddler develop good eating habits is to establish regular routines, especially mealtimes. Eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner during roughly the same time each day will help regulate not only your child’s behavior but also their hunger cues.
Include regular snacking schedules in your routines so that your toddler won’t reach out for a snack just out of boredom, which will ruin their appetite.
3. Involve your child in meal preparation.
Your toddler is picky not because they want to frustrate you or get you mad. Your toddler might be picky because they are not familiar with what is on their plate. Their wariness and lack of excitement to try something strange is totally normal.
Help your child become familiar with different kinds of food by involving them in the preparation. If you have space at home, grow some vegetables and let them help with the gardening. Let them pick what vegetables they want to cook, and let them help in the kitchen, too!
4. Prepare choices but don’t cook another meal for them.
Another reason for picky eating? Your child might want to gain some control over their life by deciding what they want and don’t want to eat. You can let your toddler be in control by giving them choices of food. For example, you can assemble different kinds of fruits on their plate.
However, do not become a short order cook at home and cook whatever your toddler requests on a whim. Allow them to choose between foods that you have already prepared, but don’t let them dictate you on what you should prepare.
5. Cook the food they dislike differently.
Your toddler might seem to dislike green beans with a passion, but don’t give up just yet. It is entirely possible that your child just does not prefer to eat green beans sautéed in butter. Try cooking it differently, like roasting it, and see if your child may like it.
When dealing with a picky eater, it is also best to add variety to your menu. Avoid preparing food the same way over and over again as your child may either become addicted to it or develop an aversion to it.
6. Allow no distractions at the dinner table.
It’s easy to get distracted when the only time and place you are able to check your emails is during breakfast. But this is an unhealthy habit that needs to be nipped at the bud. In order to inculcate healthy eating habits in your child, they need to see you practicing them, too.
Eat together as a family. You cannot afford media distractions, such as phones or the television, during mealtime, which will lead to your child thinking that eating is a tedious chore. Instead, take time to talk to each other and bond.
7. Do not bribe your toddler with a treat.
No matter how tempting it is, do not attempt to encourage your toddler to eat their fish by promising them donuts for dessert. This may work at the moment, but it may cause your child to develop an unhealthy attitude towards food in the long run.
By bribing your toddler with a treat that appeals to them, they may think of healthy foods as “bad” and unpleasant. And they may think that the reward, which is often a sweet treat like candy, is “good.” What you can do, instead, is to reward good eating habits with a kiss and words of encouragement.
8. Choose your battles.
Finally, remember that your toddler is not out to get you. They may be a picky eater because they are young and still immature, and that cannot be helped. Do not ever force feed your child, which can result in damaging eating habits in the future.
If your toddler decides they don’t want to eat, then let them. Let them face the consequences of not eating (like getting hungry, no snacking), but don’t punish them or pressure them to eat. At the end of the day, a single skipped meal will not affect them as much as bad eating habits do.
Having a picky eater for a child is probably one of the most challenging things you can experience as a parent. But there are ways to get around it by teaching your toddler good eating habits and preventing unhealthy habits from developing.