If your child is frequently leaving food on their plate, or refusing to take a bite of the meal you whipped up hoping they would chow down, it’s likely you’ve entered the ‘picky eater’ phase.
“To some extent it’s developmental,” says Dr. Amy Sniderman, pediatrician with the Cleveland Clinic’s Beachwood Family Health Center. “They start to want to exert more control, and that’s one place where they can control what’s happening in their life.”
As a parent you might be thinking, “Why don’t they like it? They used to eat this all the time.” But Sniderman assures parents this is normal.
Textures, appearance and flavor can turn a toddler away from some of the usual staples or fruits and veggies that you’ve had success with before.
“Some of the foods that we think are very healthy, like fruits and vegetables in particular, sometimes can have pretty strong tastes, maybe some bitter tastes. And those tend to be things that aren’t quite as favored by little ones,” Sniderman says.
A sibling’s influence or wanting to exert control can also lead to your child limiting their diet.
Back to Eating
As toddlers begin exploring their independence, it may take some strategy to get them to try a variety of new foods.
Sniderman suggests offering a wide variety of healthy foods at each meal. Allow your child to pick between two fruits and two vegetables.
Offering the same food to the entire family as much as possible is important.
“It’s best not to turn into a short order cook and have to make different meals for each person in the family. That’s really, really stressful and time consuming,” she says.
The goal is to offer a wide variety of foods from each healthy food group, including grains, produce and protein. It’s important not to make the process punitive, negative or stressful. The expectation should be that your child tries at least one bite.
If your little one doesn’t like something, Sniderman says you should put a small amount on their plate to re-try that food, because sometimes they will surprise you.
She says parents often find that what their child might like eating one week will change the next, so you don’t want to rule out entire food groups or options in case they change their minds later.
If you do eliminate foods, she says it could create a pattern where the child could dictate what they want each time, creating a power struggle and a limited diet.
Once you come up with a game plan on how to tackle the picky eating, she says you need to stick with it and not give up, even though it feels like an endless fight.
If your child isn’t gaining weight, you can add some butter to the vegetables to give them flavor. You can also focus on vitamin-rich options like whole-milk children’s yogurt.
Sniderman suggests speaking to your child’s doctor if gaining weight continues to be a concern.
The toddler stage can be trying and worrisome at times, but Sniderman assures parents it’s part of a child’s development process. And this phase, like many of the others you’ve endured, won’t last forever.
“Sometimes it can take 20 to 30 tries for someone to like something,” she says. “So I always tell parents, ‘Don’t give up.’