My three-year-old never wants to eat a meal. She wants to snack between meals, constantly. But only on junk food. Anything resembling a well-balanced meal is instantly rejected and shoved away as if it’s going to bite her. She is what’s known as a picky eater. If you have a toddler, you might have one at home. If you do, check out these simple strategies to get your picky toddler to eat something!
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5 Easy Ways to Get Your Picky Toddler to Eat
I love Ellyn Satter’s book Child of Mine for tips on teaching little ones to eat without turning it into a power struggle. There are wonderful ideas in the book for helping your children learn to choose what to eat and how much. I’ve tried many of her ideas with success.
But the truth is my daughter doesn’t care if she eats. She wants to play and she wants to run. She wants to get down from the table. And although books on toddler feeding tell me she won’t let herself starve, I can’t help but worry when it seems like she isn’t getting enough to eat and drink because she can’t be bothered.
It feels like a problem I need to solve.
With that in mind, here are some strategies my husband and I have used successfully to encourage our picky toddler to eat something.
1. Make Dinosaur Food
We’ve also made dragon food, ninja food, and horse food. We name our food based on whatever my daughter is currently most interested in. Any animal or character you can use to get your little one excited about food is fair game. Dinosaur food is usually chunks of meat and broccoli trees. Horse food can be carrots or apples. She’ll often ask, “Would a dinosaur eat this?” when presented with a new food. The answer is always an emphatic yes.
2. Make it a Race or a Contest
Most toddlers love games and can be motivated by a competition of some kind. I use this mostly for drinking water. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my daughter is a juice addict and refuses to drink anything else without coaxing.
We’ve had a lot of success getting her to drink water using water contests to see who can finish their cup of water first. I wouldn’t race with food because eating fast is hardly a worthy goal. Although if it was, I would be a champion at it.
But we’ve had other contests to make eating fun. The result of which is my daughter tossing peas in the air to catch them in her mouth on a regular basis. But hey, at least she is eating a vegetable the few times it lands in her mouth.
Oh sorry, it’s not bribery. It’s called using a reward chart. Which is completely different from bribery and approved by various parenting books. We’ve done reward charts for things like eating dinner without a fuss or trying a new food.
Drinking five cups of water a day for three days earned a big reward because getting water into her is such a struggle.
4. Avoid Power Struggles
If you’re in a power struggle with a toddler, you’ve already lost. It’s better to avoid tactics like forcing your picky toddler to sit at the table until they finish their plate.
Really anything that ends in a punishment is a bad idea when it comes to eating. It creates negative feelings around food and mealtimes. And I have not found it to be successful in teaching anything about healthy eating. My three-year-old would sit at the table for a year rather than lose a battle. It’s a no-win for us.
5. Cook Foods They Like
Whatever meal you have planned, include something you know your child will eat. Ellyn Satter recommends including bread with each meal. I just try to include something familiar my picky toddler has successfully eaten before. At least you know they won’t go hungry, even if it’s not a balanced meal.
Getting Picky Kids to Eat
I’ll be honest, not all of these tips follow the advice of parenting experts (and I am not claiming to be one). But you know your child best and what will work for them.
If you struggle to help your child eat healthy meals or anything at all some days, I hope these ideas can help you.
Now it’s your turn. What ideas have you used to encourage a picky toddler? I’d love to hear your strategies in the comments!