Let’s talk about our little picky eaters. Your toddler’s rejection of food is most likely not your fault even though it can be frustrating. Children between the ages of one and three are naturally picky eaters. They are “feeling their oats”. The 2 year old independency stage “I’m tough – Don’t tell me what to do – I’ll scream and pitch a fit!” There are many good tips to navigate this stage. Remember this simple phrase “YOU MUCH WHAT is to be eaten and Kiddo decides how much.” After the rapid growth in the first year of life, toddlers begin to gain weight more slowly. Which means they need less food. Now that they become way more active, snacking may become preferred over having full meals.
Knowing this makes preparing food a lot easier. You will just need to buy the correct food, prepare it nutritiously (baked and steamed rather than boiled or fried), and give it in a creative way. After that just leave it up to the child. They will let you know when they are hungry, how much they want, or even if they want to eat. Your job as Mom is to prepare and present: Kiddos job is to eat or wait. It is not your job, Mom, to “get the good food down that mouth, one way or another.” Be patient-your toddler will eat healthy food in time. Remember “YOU MUCH WHAT is to be eaten and Kiddo decides how much.”
Toddlers generally like to eat one food at a time. One day the may only want vegetables, the next fruits. These unpredictable eating habits are completely normal, anticipate them to eat good one day and then pretty much nothing the next. Kids between one and three years old need 1,000 to 1,300 calories a day, even though they may not have this much every day. The main goal is to have a nutritionally stable week.
Make food fun; call food fun names (such as: broccoli trees, carrot swords, avocado boats, etc.) cut it into shapes using cookie cutters, let them help spread their peanut butter or hummus on their toast or crackers, have them help with the food prep or cooking. Kids are more likely to eat and enjoy their food when they have helped make it. Take your child grocery shopping with you (if you have one not four) and let them pick different colored and unusual food.
Make snack trays and have them easily accessible. Load a muffin tin, compartmentalized plate, or ice cube tray with small amounts of nutritious foods. Leave this on a low table or place it on an easily reachable shelf in the fridge reserved just for them.
Vegetables are sometimes one of the hardest foods to get kids to eat. Knowing this parents need to come up with creative ways to entice their little ones into eating them. Here are some fun ideas to try:
- Use vegetables to create pieces of art. Make funny faces with cucumber eyes, bell pepper mouth, broccoli hair, and a carrot nose.
- Let them help with a vegetable garden. Your little one will be more excited to eat vegetables after they have watched them grow. (Carrot tops, potatoes, and avocado seeds in water jars on the window seal)
- Hide or disguise them, put finely grated vegetables in some of their favorite foods, cover them in their favorite sauce, or put it in a smoothie.
Keep portion sizes small. A small child’s stomach is about the size of their fist. So provide about that much food at a time and give more when they ask for it. Also try to encourage them to take at least one bite, and try to keep going without force-feeding. One study showed after presenting new food to a toddler 25 times that on the 26th try Mr. or Ms. little tough toddler finally said to themselves “Okay, maybe I’ll try” and “Wow, Mikey likes it.”
Don’t worry about the time of day, children don’t yet understand the difference between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If they are wanting a specific food that is not typically in the norm of breakfast let them have it. Variety and foods in time are great. Not a good habit to always give the exact same food day after day.
Lastly, just relax and be diligent. The picky eater stage will pass or at least levels out over time. When kiddo “wears his or her meal, in the hair up the nose, in the ear, or rather feed the dog with the food, just laugh and take a pic – good times!!” LOL
-Dr. Kenneth Akey