Toddlers are Picky Eaters

Toddlers are picky eaters. It’s one of the only things in their lives they have control over, so you really can’t blame them. As a baby, Aiden would eat almost anything I put in front of him (except fish). As a toddler, not so much.

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Though he does like his food with some pizzaz (heck, he’ll ask for hot sauce on a quesedilla), he has definite preferences for types of food and how its presented to him. He also goes through food phases where a much beloved food (butter chicken) can suddenly become one of the many foods on the “no yike it” list.

Though we try not to cook for Aiden, our cooking choices are definitely impacted by what Aiden will or will not eat. We try to offer him a variety of healthy foods, so we tend to cook meals where we can set aside items he may like before mixing, saucing or spicing them up for ourselves, if necessary. We will also less frequently make foods he has never enjoyed, which is kind of a pity when we like those foods ourselves.

Aiden likes foods unmixed. He prefers his vegetables steamed only (no sauces of any kind) and doesn’t like most foods that group together (stir-fry, casserole, etc). In some cases, we can deconstruct the meals, taking out the food items he’s likely to eat and presenting them separately. I recently discovered that he will in fact eat fruit salad – if I re-separate out the constituent parts. Go figure.

I wish feeding a toddler was a straightforward thing, but it’s not. There are mysteries to every food critic, including mine, such as:

  • Why will Aiden only eat cheese that is melted? Or Babybel (sometimes)?
  • Why will he eat Mexican rice, with carrots and corn, but not other rice dishes?
  • Why will he eat skin on apples but not touch fruit like kiwi or strawberries (because they look like they have seeds)?
  • Why will he eat steak with a sauce on it but not the broccoli with the same sauce?

Our Picky Eater Tactics

We’ve tried many things to get Aiden to eat a more varied diet. Some of them have worked. For example, I can get Aiden to eat more fruit if I offer peanut butter for dipping. The same trick has not worked for vegetables or other food, however, as he doesn’t like other dips of any kind or even ketchup.

I’ve found that if I offer a plate of food with at least one food I know he likes, in a smaller quantity, that he will sometimes continue after that food onto others. Sometimes cutting food into new shapes, or involving him in its preparation, will work – but mostly not. Bribery (yes, tried it) works to get Aiden to eat more of a certain food, but won’t compel him to eat other foods he’s rejected at that particular meal.

We repeatedly offer Aiden new foods to try. To give him credit, he does try a lot of foods – some of them are just spit out after a few chews or rejected after a couple of bites. Other times, persistence pays off. This past week, Aiden has tried a strawberry, ravioli, oatmeal and brussels sprouts. He’s been offered these many times before, and even used to like some of them, but had rejected them for a long span of time. We typically just place the food on his plate – a verbal question on trying the food will always be met with a ‘No’.

We will continue to make progress, and have set-backs, I’m sure. This piece of advice has helped me a lot in struggling with this issue: consider a toddler diet as a week-long balancing act. Some days they may eat a lot of protein, others a lot of fruit. So long as the week seems to balance, don’t worry too much about the day-to-day.

Is your toddler a picky eater? In what way?


4 comments for Toddlers are Picky Eaters

  1. I've talked to many moms of babies who brag about their awesome little eaters. As a mom of two, I try not to let my amusement show too much. Both of my kids would eat almost anything as babies, but became very picky toddlers. I think it's a pretty normal thing. I just did my best to offer a variety of foods, and made sure that there was at least one thing at meals they would eat. I also confess to making the occasional PB&J for them after dinner – something I swore I'd never do before I had toddlers.

    The good news is that kids do eventually outgrow their pickiness. My daughter is 7 now, and she's starting to become a more adventurous eater again. Plus, she can make some simple snacks and so on for herself, so I don't have to be as involved in the game of "what will she eat today?" It just takes time to get there.

  2. karmavore says:

    Theo seriously did eat ANYTHING for a year (1.5 to 2.5). It drove me insane! We offered everything. We eat at the table, we eat a super varied diet. We'd offer everything. He basically at snacks and drank milk. I kid you not. I'd just block my ears when anyone gave us advice and totally OUT OF THE BLUE, a few months ago he started eat everything! I am not kidding you. He must have gotten hungry or something. They are so random these kids.

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