How to Handle Picky Eaters, Toddlers and Meals

When it comes to picky eaters, toddlers can make you feel like you are doing something wrong. 

From a favorite food one day to a floor toss the next, feeding toddlers can leave you on a feeding roller coaster.  You’re trying new strategies, foods and on a constant search for recipes your toddler will eat.

The truth is, picky eating is less about the food and more about the developmental stage.

Toddler development is important to understand. The strategies that will help your toddler the most, may be easier than the tactics you are using now.

In this article, you’ll discover three keys to feeding that will help you weather the toddler feeding stage and give your child the building blocks needed to eat a wide variety of foods. 

Why is my child a picky eater?

It is easy to feel like your toddler has suddenly developed a pickier palate or dislike of foods that were previously favorites. As a parent, this is both frustrating and can cause concern about adequacy of nutrition and future diet quality.

Picky eating is often called “normal” in toddlers, but this isn’t exactly true. What happens is that your pliable infant starts to become more independent. Part of this new independence you experience at meals.

A more comprehensive overview of development and why toddlers won’t eat is found in this article.

How to get my picky eater toddler to eat better?

The most important thing you can do to help your picky eater toddler is to follow key feeding principles. While searching the internet, Pinterest and local mom groups for foods and recipe ideas can help, picky eating isn’t usually about the food. 

Your job isn’t to find foods your toddler will eat, it is to help your toddler learn to eat the foods that you enjoy.

This may sound strange and perhaps harsh.  However, consider that children around the world eat very different foods and flavors.  This variation is due to learning to eat the foods that are traditional to family and culture. 

This is your responsibility, to teach your child to eat the foods you enjoy.  A solid understanding of key feeding principles will equip you with skills to feed with confidence. 


Strategies for Picky Eaters Toddlers

1. Know Your Role

Don’t pressure your child to try new foods.  It may seem like your toddler will not eat anything or regress to only favorite foods without your intervention. 

The truth is that your role as the parent is to provide the food and your child decides to eat it or not.  This means that pressure in the form of bribes, rewards or forcing your child to eat do not help solve picky eating.

Trade pressure for alternative ways to help your picky eater.  This article has specific suggestions that don’t involve pressure. 

2. Follow a feeding schedule for your toddler.

One way that parents contribute to picky eating behaviors is by letting their child graze throughout the day.  

Your “provide the food” role as the parent also includes when and where food is served.  This means that you determine the schedule for meals and snacks – and stick to it!

Even when your toddler’s appetite is variable and he eats just bites at a meal, resist the urge to add an extra snack or offer food shortly after the meal.  Remember that it is normal for your toddler to have a highly variable appetite and intake. 

With a consistent feeding schedule, you can help your child learn to recognize and respond to hunger and satiety cues. This is essential to support your child’s development of lifelong skills for healthy eating.   

Utilize this toddler feeding schedule and nutrition guide to help you develop a schedule or determine if your current schedule is appropriate.

3. Don’t Be a Short-order Cook

Preparing a separate meal for your toddler is a recipe for picky eating behaviors.  It is necessary to plan your meals to include food textures that are safe and age-appropriate. Aim to serve a single meal for the family.  

Remember that your child needs to be exposed to new foods many times in order to learn to eat the foods that are served at your home. 

Getting into a routine of preparing a single meal can feel difficult.  This article gives a specific roadmap for preparing a single meal and ending short order cooking.


Summary: Picky Eaters, Toddlers at Meals

Feeding your picky eater toddler can change from a multiple time per day struggle to an activity that is both joyful and fun. By utilizing key feeding principles and being persistent, you can help your toddler develop the skills needed to eat a variety of foods.

Avoid pressuring your child to eat.  Remember that the parent provides and the child decides. In addition to selecting the foods your child will have to choose from at meals, you also select when and where meals and snacks happen.

 By focusing on the what, when and where of meals, you are providing the consistency and exposure to new foods your child needs.  Let your child decide if and how much to eat from what you serve.


Next Steps for Picky Eating Success

If you are ready to take action to help your picky eater toddler, download my FREE Toddler Feeding Survival Guide. 

picky toddler looking away from meal served

Ready to dive deeper?

My FREE Online Workshop Teaches Key Feeding Principles To Reduce Picky Eating And How To Create A Positive Mealtime Environment.

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picky eater toddler boy refusing to eat apple from parent