Feeding a baby can be such a joy as a parent as they experience and relish new foods. However, all of that can come to a screeching halt when they become a toddler. Your usually cooperative child is now reusing foods which they previously ate with gusto, their appetite appears to have disappeared overnight, and your carefully prepared dinner end up all over the floor.
Welcome to life with a toddler.
Most toddlers, no matter how accepting they were of new foods as a baby, become much pickier for the next few years. While it sucks, it’s also a regular part of development. It’s how you, as the parent, react which matters.
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Why Your Toddler Is Picky
There are a few factors which are contributing to your toddler’s pickiness.
A slow down in their rate of growth: Babies grow at a remarkable pace for the first year of their life. However, after about 12 months (FC) this growth rate slows down. Naturally, so does their calorie intake and their appetites. As parents, it can take us a little while to adapt to their new level of appetite.
Acceptance of food as a baby: All toddlers become pickier to a certain degree. There are theories that it’s tied to our biological development. After all, the child that was wary of the red berries was less likely to die from eating said poisonous red berries. However, if your baby was already a picky eater, then the picky toddler stage is going to be more pronounced.
Increased activity: Your toddler is ready to move, move, move. It’s no wonder that they don’t want to be strapped into a chair for long periods at mealtimes. Given a chance, most toddlers would rather graze all day than face the confinement of meal times.
Increased independence: You may have noticed your toddler asserting their independence more and more. They may have learned the word no by now and the power associated with it. Refusing food goes hand in hand with this growing independence.
What can you do about your toddler’s pickiness?
Tip #1: Establish an eating routine.
Above I mentioned how your toddler would rather graze all day than being confined at meal times. Now, more than ever the importance of a family eating schedule comes into play. Meals and snacks should be planned out throughout the day and periods of no food (this includes milk and juice) included in this schedule. A toddler should be able to last for 2-3 hours between eating. Figure out a plan which works for your family and your existing schedules. Chance are your toddler is more likely to accept his lunch if he’s not already full from grazing on crackers all morning.
In keeping with your new eating schedule be mindful where eating is taking place. While some snacks will be on the go, when you’re at home make an effort to eat at a table. Your toddler will not like being contained in their chair, but once it becomes routine, they will accept it. Don’t expect your toddler to be able to fit through the entire dinner. Chances are they will last 10-20 minutes before wanting to get down. That’s okay; it’s also essential for them to learn how to play on their own while you finish your food.
Tip #2: Remove the pressure.
I’m a firm believer in Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility. You can check it out here but the basics are that you (as the parent) and your child (after about the age of 15-18 months) are responsible for different aspects of the feeding process. Your child is responsible for if they want to eat and for how much. By removing the pressure that we place on our children to eat we remove the stress at mealtimes and most mealtime battles. You need to support the DOR model by making sure you are offering food your child will eat alongside any new food items you would like them to eat.
Tip #3: Serve Variety
Keep up the variety of food you are exposing your toddler too. Just because your toddler has rejected a particular food once (or 10 times) don’t write that particular item off the menu. It can take many exposures to a specific food before a child is willing to try and accept that food.
Rotate how you are preparing the problem foods. Say you want your toddler to try red peppers. Try serving them raw with a dip one day, roasted in a hummus another and as the part of chicken fajitas the next.
Tip #4: Introduce foods in a non-meal setting.
My toddler loves standing at the kitchen sink to ‘wash’ things. I often have him wash the vegetables we are using for the next meal. It’s a great way for him to handle an unfamiliar vegetable.
Take your child to the grocery store or farmers market if there’s one nearby. Don’t choose a time when you have to get through your regular shop. Instead, plan on only buying one or two items. Take the time to wander through the produce section and talk about the vegetable and fruit there. Let your child choose a new fruit or vegetable to purchase which can then be prepared for a snack later. Remember that when snack time comes around to not place any pressure on your child to try the new purchase. What you’re aiming for is exposure.
Hang in there
Feeding a picky toddler can be rough, especially when it feels like nothing you serve is being accepted. Keep in mind that most picky toddlers will grow out of this stage, assuming that you continue to expose them to variety. In the meantime remember to avoid making mealtimes a battle time by using the Division of Responsibility as your guide. And, by sticking to your family’s eating schedule.
However, sometimes picky eating is caused by underlying issues. These children are usually classified as ‘problem’ or ‘resistant’ eaters and will not grow out of their pickiness without help. Here’s a post about red flags in problem eaters. If your child is showing signs of being a problem eater get them assessed so they can have the additional help they will need.