Updated January 26, 2021
Toddlers are notorious for being picky eaters. Are you looking for ways to get your toddler to eat more foods?
You are not alone!
We faced the challenge of having picky toddlers who wouldn’t eat.
This can be very frustrating for parents, particularly the first time around.
There are ways you can help your toddler learn to eat more foods and stop being so picky.
There will always be toddlers that eat everything. My brother and sister-in-law’s toddler eats anything.
But it is far more common for toddlers to refuse to eat many foods.
We are sharing proven strategies that have helped us with our own picky eaters and hopefully will help you too.
Though infrequent, there can be times when these strategies don’t work.
In that situation, it is important to consult with your pediatrician.
Before we jump into the 10 tips, it is important to understand what can cause a toddler to refuse to eat certain foods. It may not be taste-related.
The cause of picky eating may also be related to mechanics, color, and/or texture.
There can be other reasons for food refusal but those are the most common.
We found that if our toddler was tired or had missed a nap, mealtime was going to be miserable for all of us.
If your toddler isn’t sleeping well at night this article goes deep into possible causes and offers practical and proven solutions that worked for us.
Toddler sleep issues can be a troubling problem for many parents. Lack of sleep impacts all aspects of family life. Being overtired and cranky is a major cause of toddler power struggles at bedtime. We hope that the tips in this article will be useful when bedtime comes around.
We always want to remember that toddlers are making a major transition from breast or bottle feeding to eating solid foods.
This involves learning to eat using utensils. This can be very frustrating and is certainly not a reason to be upset with your child.
Learning to eat with utensils is a steep learning curve.
Using utensils requires coordination and the development of fine motor skills.
It should be no surprise that your child may simply resort to picking up food with her hands. (Which is fine! Let your toddler eat with their hands.)
Being patient is extremely important.
Learning to eat with utensils can cause your child to prefer one food over another.
Always try to make your child’s food easy to eat with utensils so the transition to using a fork and spoon will not be too challenging.
Aside from taste, mechanics is just one factor that may contribute to a toddler’s food likes and dislikes.
👉 We found the best utensils for little hands on Amazon.
Yes, simply the color of food can be a factor when it comes to picky eaters.
Whether it is the result of not liking a particular color or associating the color with another food your child does not like.
Try to always keep in mind the types of foods you are introducing into your child’s diet and mix up the colors.
Remember that bright colors are particularly stimulating and will likely get more attention.
In the same way, think about food textures and try to make meals that have a variety of textures.
The texture is an issue for many young children!
Once you have worked with color, texture, and taste, another tactic to add variety to your child’s new experience with solid foods, is to “bridge” foods.
Bridging foods is the process of introducing new food that is similar in color, texture, and (when possible) taste.
This may not be something you have thought of and it will take some time to plan out the foods that go together best.
One example is squash and pumpkin.
10 Proven Tips to Get Your Toddler To Eat:
Consistency is very important to toddlers.
Consistent bedtimes, bath times, and mealtimes help your toddler know what to expect at dinner time every night.
Having the same routines and rituals at mealtime will help the whole family be more peaceful and less stressed.
Fewer feelings of overwhelm and stress can help reduce power struggles over food choices.
Let your toddler be involved in mealtime preparation. Let them help set the table.
Allow for a 5-minute warning and transitions from playtime to mealtime.
We are sharing 10 toddler parenting tips. We learned these tips while raising our toddlers. As a former early childhood educator, I know and understand that managing toddler behavior can be very frustrating for many parents.
2. Make mealtime relaxed and fun:
When I was little I was a very picky eater. Super picky.
Here is the thing, I really didn’t like many foods.
Forcing them on me didn’t help at all.
I still remember mealtime battles and so many of those foods did not become something I enjoyed until early adulthood.
Dinner time was often stressful for me as a young child.
That memory has stuck with me.
I still won’t eat chicken salad or egg salad, but I’ll eat chicken cooked in other ways and I love scrambled eggs.
I share that story so hopefully, you’ll work to make mealtimes relaxing and fun for yourself and your toddler.
Some ideas to make it more relaxing and fun:
- Use small cookie cutters to cut up fruits and veggies into fun shapes
- Have a picnic or cookout
- Cut sandwiches into shapes (This worked the best for our picky toddlers!)
- Eat-in the family room in your PJs while watching a movie
- Praise immediately when your child tries a new food
- Use non-food rewards like a sticker chart
- Grow your own food or visit a farmer’s market
- Some children may not eat a vegetable that is cooked but will consume it raw or vice versa. Try preparing it in different ways to see if a certain method is preferable.
- Offer fruits and vegetables with a dip or yogurt
- Camp-out in the backyard and cook dinner in foil packets on the grill.
Have patience, remain calm, don’t make a big deal out of it if they refuse to try new food.
Just keep offering the foods in different forms, different recipes in a calm relaxing way.
3. Model good food choices:
Make healthy food choices for yourself. Your toddler learns about food choices by watching you.
Eat fruits and vegetables for a snack, enjoy a salad with dinner.
Even if your child doesn’t like certain foods, watching you eat it, seeing it on the table without being pressured to eat it, can be enough to get them to try it on their own.
4. Serve the least liked food first.
Introduce new foods or foods they don’t like first.
You may need to introduce a new food several times before your child is even willing to try it.
Make sure you offer new foods first.
You can offer a small amount of new food and a portion of food they like if you find that gets them more likely to try the new food.
Pair foods that are often eaten together but are at opposite spectrums.
Sweet and sour or salty and bitter. Pairing can also be used to introduce less desirable foods into a toddler’s diet.
👉This involves combining a portion of food that your child likes with a food that is often pushed aside.
The biggest thing to remember is to not make a big deal if your child doesn’t try the new food.
That will only encourage power struggles and tantrums.
Reintroduce the food another time and don’t make a big deal out of it.
5. Make Food Bite-Size:
Cutting up the food into small bites can make your toddler more likely to try new foods.
Think finger foods for picky toddlers.
Bite-size and easy to pick up with little fingers.
Don’t overwhelm them with a large portion of a new food or a large portion of food they do not like.
If they find they like it, you can always give them more.
6. Offer choices:
Toddlers want to feel like they are in control and independent.
Pay close attention to the types of food your toddler will eat.
If your toddler prefers softer foods to crunchier foods, offer her choices of new foods with similar textures and tastes.
Your toddler is more likely to try new foods when they feel they have choices.
7. Focus on foods they like for the main meal:
The times our kids have been most willing to try new foods has been when the main meal was something they really love.
Looking back to my own childhood, it was the same.
Food is such an important part of our lives and experiences, the more positive you can make it, the more likely your toddler will be to try new foods.
When I was small I loved cheese.
I hated broccoli until the night my mother served broccoli with cheese sauce.
From that night on I loved it. So try to combine foods they like with the new foods.
That can help them form positive associations with the food.
8. Let them, help cook:
It is a great idea to get your toddlers involved in meal planning and cooking with you!
Show them the weekly ads, let them help choose the meals for the week and shop for the ingredients.
Allow your toddler to cook with you.
Let them add ingredients and mix things together.
It is a great opportunity to have a small bowl of fruits or veggies and dip to snack on while you cook.
Let it be light and fun.
I always turn on music in the kitchen and make sure my kids see cooking as a fun and positive experience.
9. Don’t threaten or punish your toddler for not eating.
Threatening, spanking, or sending your child to bed without dinner isn’t going to solve their picky eating issues.
It might help you feel better and vent off anger or frustration at the situation, but it does zero over the long term to help your child learn to enjoy all types of foods.
I was a picky eater until my early 20s. I
know it frustrated my parents, but the punishment didn’t make me like the food.
It made meal times stressful and not enjoyable for me at all.
Relax, take a deep breath, and realize ultimately this is a phase.
Your toddler will come to enjoy a wide variety of foods over time.
10. Ask Your Toddler To Take Just One Bite
As with most “new” things in life, trying just one of almost anything is usually better tolerated.
This applies to children as well as adults.
More often, when something new is not forced, it is more likely to be accepted.
Let your child be in control of whether she wants another bite.
Toddler Food and Meal Ideas:
We’ve talked about what can cause picky eating in toddlers and 10 tips to get your toddler to eat more foods.
But figuring all that out is going to take some time.
👉If veggies are the problem most of the foods below are perfect for adding hidden veggies!
Here are some simple toddler food ideas that picky eaters usually like too:
- Homemade Apple Sauce
- Baked Apples or Baked Pears
- Baked Oatmeal
- Pumpkin pie and sweet potato pie
- Potatoes – Baked, Mashed, Boiled
- Scrambled eggs
- Pancakes and Waffles
- Homemade Graham Crackers
- Vanilla yogurt and granola
- Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries (cut up into little pieces) – You can sometimes sneak some chopped cucumber (without the seeds) in with the strawberries.
- Turkey and cheese or ham and cheese mini roll-ups
- Mini-Muffins (Blueberry, banana, sweet potato, and cranberry are usually good choices)
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Spaghetti and Meatballs
- Hummus and Veggie Sticks
- Peanut Butter Yogurt Dip and Cut-up Fruit
Toddler meal ideas that our picky kids have actually eaten:
I’m all for showing the reality of feeding a picky eater.
These are some realistic toddler meals I have made that my kids would eat.
Mini Blueberry Muffins, Greek Yogurt, Strawberries
We have good luck chopping strawberries and cucumbers into pieces and mixing them in with the yogurt.
Cucumber is mild tasting and pairs well with strawberries.
You can add some pureed vegetables to the muffin mix.
Cheese Quesadilla, Fruit, Tomato, Tortilla chips
A cheese quesadilla is a good choice for sneaking in some hidden veggies.
You can spread pureed vegetables on one side of the tortilla, put cheese on the other side, fold it over, and grill.
You can do the same thing with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Turkey and cheese sandwich, strawberries, apple straws
We have found that cutting foods into shapes (like the heart below) made our toddlers more likely to eat the food.
Try Breakfast foods for lunch or dinner!
Pot Roast, Au Gratin Potatoes, Cooked Carrots (Slow cooked with the pot roast)
Our kids like meat and potatoes. I found that I could get them to eat cooked carrots by cooking them with the meat.
What to read next:
- 8 Proven Tips To Help Your Toddler Sleep
- 10 Toddler Parenting Tips You’ll Be Glad You Know
- 9 Ways To Stop Toddler Tantrums