Babies grow rapidly during the first year of life and will triple their birth weight by one year. The energy demands for toddlers are less, as their growth rate slows down after their first birthday.
There is a decrease in appetite, and they are less interested in food and more interested to explore the world around them. This can be a big concern for parents, as parents want their children to grow and develop.
As a parent of a picky eater, I am sure you have realized by now, it is fruitless to be involved in a power struggle with your child over food.
Children cannot be forced to eat, but you can make sure to offer a variety of nutritious food, expose them to new foods, establish healthy eating habits and good routines as well as leading by example.
The following things should be kept in mind when feeding your picky eater.
1. Involve Your Toddler
Create an interest in food by involving your toddler in buying and preparing food. They can do age-appropriate tasks such as picking out fruits in the store, washing tomatoes, shredding lettuce or breaking snap peas.
Older children can set the table. You can also include them when packing lunch boxes for school.
2. Eliminate Distractions During Mealtimes
Try to keep meals relaxing and quiet. The atmosphere around food and mealtimes will influence your child’s attitude towards food and eating. A picky eater can easily be distracted by shows on the television or games.
It is beneficial to turn off the television and other electronic gadgets, and putting away toys during mealtime. This will help your child to focus on eating. More than 44 % of advertisements aimed towards children are on candy, sweets and soft drinks and 34% is on fast foods.
Turning the television off will help to reduce the number of advertisements your child is exposed to daily. The foods your children are exposed to most are what they will ask for.
3. Getting The Physical Setting Right
The physical setting is just as important as setting a relaxing and quiet atmosphere. Toddlers should sit in a high chair to ensure they can effortlessly reach the table and food.
Child-size tables and chairs are also acceptable. Their feet should be supported and not be hanging. A swallow bowl might be more suitable than a plate depending on the age of your child to allow them to scoop the food.
4. Limit Choices
Do not give your toddler too many choices. Toddlers reject foods to control decision-making, and it will be best to avoid a power struggle with your child.
If you want to give your toddler choices limit it to only two choices at a time.
Keep the plate of food you prepare simple and give your toddler the same food as the rest of the family. If you prepare a separate meal for your child after he/she rejected the family meal, it might encourage picky eating.
Teach your child to stay at the table for the full duration of mealtimes even though he or she doesn’t eat. Do not lose heart -keep serving your child healthy food until it becomes familiar.
5. Introduce New Foods
Your picky toddler will refuse new food up to 15 times or more. Be patient and keep on serving new food occasionally with an old favorite to ensure your child is exposed to a variety of food.
Offer only one new food at a time and give it when your child is very hungry. Give a small bite at a time and allow them to experiment with the new food. They might want to touch or smell it.
Allow them to put it in their mouth and take out again if that will help your toddler to get use to the new taste and texture.
Help your child to accept a new food by talking about the color, shape, aroma, and texture of the new food instead of asking whether they like it.
6. Keep Food Portions Small
You will overwhelm your toddler if you dish up too much food at a time. Keep portions small. Serve 1 tablespoon of each food for each year of your child’s age.
For example, if your child is two years old he/she should receive 2 tablespoons of rice, 2 tablespoons of mince and two tablespoons of pumpkin. You can add small amounts of the individual food groups according to appetite.
7. Don’t Fear Food Jags
Food jags are normal for toddlers, and there will be times when they will eat the same food or a small group of foods day after day for a few days or weeks. Let it runs its course.
Toddlers try to establish independence or get attention. After a few weeks, there will be a new favorite food. Remember these periods are developmental and only temporary.
8. Timing And Routine
Give meals and snacks at specific intervals and the same time daily to ensure your child is hungry at mealtimes. Have 3 set meals (breakfast, lunch, and supper) with 2-3 snacks during the day.
Do not feed your toddler too often and limit food to these meal times. Children love finger foods – cucumber or carrot sticks, fruit squares or cheese might work well for snack time for more healthy snack ideas click here. Avoid giving sweets or beverages except for water in between meals. Water, milk and 100% fruit juice can be served with meals.
Do not expect your toddler to eat well at every meal. Some toddlers may fill up at one meal and refuse to eat the next few meals.
Remember children don’t eat well when tired. Make sure to keep playtime and sleep time in mind when scheduling feeding times.
9. Do Not Force Toddlers To Empty The Plate
It is normal for your toddler to leave food on the plate. Never force or bribe children to clean their plate. Allow your child to be a responsive eater.
Toddlers have small tummies and short attention spans, but they will eat when hungry and stop when full.
Your aim should be to ensure they have healthy food available when hungry and that they do not fill up on sweets or cool drinks between or before meals.
10. Do Not Use Food As Reward Or Treat
Do not reward your child with sweets or dessert when eating well and do not withhold treats when they are not eating well. This sends a message that dessert is the best food, which might increase your child’s desire for sweets.
You can rather select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and limit dessert and sweets the rest of the week. Try to give healthier alternatives such as fruit, yogurt or sugar-free snacks for dessert.
Visit this link for ideas on non-food rewards to give your child.
11. Lead By Example
The family members (parents and older siblings) are the primary influencers in the development of food habits of toddlers. Children do not have the ability to choose a well-balanced diet unless they are presented with it.
Parents are strong role models, and the attitude of parents is a strong predictor of food likes and dislikes of their children. The best way to get your toddler to eat healthy is to set a good example and to lead a healthy lifestyle.
You can do this by eating a variety of healthy food including 5 portions of fruit and vegetables daily. Choose healthy snacks and reduce sugary, fatty or deep-fried foods.
Drink lots of clean water and do not snack mindlessly on junk food while watching television. Your child will imitate you.
12. Make Meals Nutrient Dense
Picky toddlers are most likely to eat fewer vegetables. You can make sure your child is still getting a variety of vegetables by hiding it in the sauce for example you can add chopped broccoli or peas to spaghetti sauce, blend mixed vegetables and add it to mince or mash , and fruit cubes and nuts to cereal, or mix grated carrots into stews.
Smoothies are also a great way to make sure your child gets a variety of fruits and dairy prepare it with yogurt, not ice cream.
13. Experiment To Find What Works For Your Child
Different picky eaters might react differently to the same plate. For some toddlers, it works best to keep the plate simple and plain, but some children might be more interested in colorful food presented in a fun way.
You can use cookie cutters to cut food into interesting shapes. Make sure to add a variety of colors to make the plate attractive.
14. See the bigger picture
It will be helpful to keep track of your child’s intake for 3-7 days. You might be surprised at the amount and variety they are eating little by little at a time.
Author: Jacomie Nel
Jacomie is a registered dietitian with a BSc Dietetics degree and she is currently doing her master degree in Dietetics. Her research is focused on chronic kidney disease. Jacomie completed the CDE Advanced Diabetes course and did a Diploma in Exercise and Sports nutrition. She loves advocating for a healthy lifestyle, as is the most effective way to prevent and treat chronic diseases of lifestyle. She is the founder of Simply Nutritious and you are welcome to visit her website at or follow her on facebook.