How to Encourage Picky Toddlers to Eat Better

Here are a few tips for handling picky eaters.

Picky eaters aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. In fact, as long as there have been children, there have been boys and girls who just don’t like what their parents are trying to feed them. In fact, picky eating is so universal that it can be considered a toddler milestone – it usually crops up between the ages of 1 and 2, when kids are finding independence, trying more things and learning to push boundaries. However, that doesn’t mean you have to settle for chicken nuggets and hot dogs every night – we all want to make sure our kids are eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, right? With that in mind, here are a few tips you can use to encourage your picky eaters to branch out:

Be patient

One thing many parents may forget when dealing with picky eaters: It’s less important to get kids to eat everything on their plate right now than it is to get them to branch out in general. So, if your child is unwilling to try something the first time you introduce it, continue including it in meals until he or she becomes more open to the idea. The general rule of thumb is, you have to introduce a new food 15 to 16 times before a toddler will accept it as part of his or her diet.

Get your little one involved

As mentioned above, picky eating typically crops up around the time toddlers are discovering their independence. That said, no matter how old your kids are, try to get them involved in planning and preparing meals. This will make them feel a little less under your thumb and a little more in control. Let them pick out fruits and veggies they like in the supermarket, and ask for their opinions when you’re planning meals for the week.

Family picking out apples at grocery store.Kids like to feel like they have some control – let them help you pick out foods at the store.

Don’t turn it into a consequence

The last thing you want to do is make eating healthy foods a chore or a consequence – this will only feed into the negativity surrounding eating unfamiliar foods. Instead of saying, “You must eat all of your peas before leaving the table/playing your game/watching TV,” make it a rule that all family members must eat at least one bite of what’s on their plates at mealtimes. After that, they can decide which foods they’ll finish.

Make meals exciting

One thing you can be sure all kids love: foods that look fun and exciting. Why do you think dinosaur chicken nuggets are so popular? If you have time, consider the presentation – use cookie cutters, add ingredients your kids already love and choose foods in a variety of colors.


Try to avoid offering an alternative

When dealing with truly stubborn eaters, it’s often much easier to avoid a fight and make the child his or her own meal. However, this isn’t the best habit to get into – your children should be eating what you eat for dinner, not having cereal or a PB&J. Try to offer a variety of dishes at dinnertime, including one or two that you know your child likes.

One final tip: Try to remember that picky eating is usually a phase – be patient and positive, and help your child branch out at his or her own pace.