Mom spoon feeding her toddler.

9 Tips to Handling Picky Eaters

Family dinners are a great way for loved ones to spend quality time together. It gives parents a chance to hear about their child’s day without interruptions while providing them with a healthy, balanced meal at home. Unfortunately, enjoying a meal can be difficult if you have a picky eater in the family. Food aversions tend to develop around toddlerhood, as appetite increases while growth begins to slow. During this time, your toddler may develop very specific food preferences that seem to change on a day-to-day basis. This is a common occurrence, so try not to get too frustrated as your toddler navigates their changing palettes. Instead, consider implementing the following nine tips to help handle picky eaters.


Important Information About Nutrition During Childhood

While most parents find it frustrating that their toddlers won’t even try some home cooked meals, the biggest concern revolves around nutrition. If your child is picky about certain meals, try not to worry too much and continue to incorporate variety in their plates during the week. Children usually receive plenty of vitamins and minerals throughout the course of a week and food aversions rarely last long enough to cause health issues. Do what you can to offer plenty of fruits and vegetables and if you’re worried about vitamins, talk to your pediatrician about finding a children’s gummy to add to their routine.


9 Ways to Handle Picky Eaters

Everyone has preferences when it comes to their food, regardless of age. As your toddler’s tastebuds continue to develop, here are some tips to help you handle picky eaters and balance your child’s diet.


  1. Respect Your Child’s Appetite

    While it’s important to make sure that your child is getting the nutrients they need to grow, don’t force them to eat. A reluctance to eat a meal may be an indication that your toddler simply isn’t hungry. When you respect their appetite, they grow up to develop a healthier relationship with food and are less likely to sustain long-lasting food aversions. This can also help you reduce the risk of eating disorders or anxiety that revolves around food. Try serving smaller portions throughout the day to keep meal sizes consistent.

    If your toddler had a big breakfast or lunch, don’t worry that they’re not eating as much for dinner. However, if you notice that your toddler isn’t consuming that much food throughout the day in general, it’s worth discussing with your pediatrician. 

    Order Your Insurance Covered Breast Pump


  2. Reduce Distractions at the Table

    It’s a good habit to use mealtime as a way to unplug and spend quality time together as a family. When you eat with the television on or an electronic in hand, you introduce distractions that can reinforce a picky eater’s reluctance to try new things. This is especially true when TV commercials are advertising sugary desserts when you’re trying to get your child to eat broccoli. By minimizing distractions, you can help your child develop a more mindful attitude towards eating and an openness to trying new things.


  3. Implement a Routine

    Routines are important for children. When things happen at the same time each day, they begin to anticipate them and are therefore, less likely to throw a tantrum. These schedules should include eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner around the same time each day and incorporating snacks in between each meal. This way, if your child doesn’t eat much at one of their meals, they’ll have the option to eat another nutritious snack without ruining their appetite. When they’re thirsty, try to stick to water throughout the day and only serve milk or 100% juice with meals. This reduces the chance of them refusing food at mealtimes because they’re full of liquids.


  4. Try Not to Cook Separate Meals

    Resist the urge to be a short-order cook. Instead, make the same meal for everyone in the family. When at the table, don’t offer to make something else if your child says that they don’t like the food that’s on their plate. The more often you give in to these requests, the less likely your child is to grow out of the picky eater phase. If your child refuses to eat the meal you’ve made, don’t let them leave the table to go do something else. Instead, have them stay at the table until mealtime is over to reinforce schedules and encourage eating.


  5. Don’t Give Up

    Introducing new foods can be a struggle, especially if you have a picky eater. However just because your child refuses to eat a specific food one day doesn’t mean you should give up trying. You need to be patient during these introductions, as repeated exposure can help children overcome food aversions. In some instances, it takes up to 10 exposures for a toddler to willingly try a new food.

    There are several ways that new parents can help build this exposure before getting children to take their first bite. Some of these include simply having it on their plate, letting them touch the food or play with it, encouraging them to smell the food, or seeing if they’ll put it in their mouth without actually chewing it. Over time, these tactics can help give your child the confidence to take their first bite.


  6. Avoid Bribing with Treats

    Some parents have found success by telling their children that if they eat their whole plate, they can have dessert or something that they like. By creating the mentality that food is a prize, you can hinder your child’s relationship with food and lead to more problems with pickiness down the line. While offering a bribe is an effective short-term success, it will come with a long-term loss and can lead to further food aversions.


  7. Recruit the Tiny Chefs

    When you actively involve your toddler in the planning, shopping, and cooking experience, you can increase motivation to try new foods. Consider sitting down as a family once a week to plan dinners and then take your child to the grocery store to help pick out fruits and vegetables. Try to stick to the outer walls of the grocery store to avoid temptation from unhealthy food and dessert marketed towards children. If you have time during the week, you can return to the grocery store on your own to traverse these areas.

    When you’re getting ready to cook, ask your child to help by rinsing off fruits and vegetables, stir or mix sauces, and set the table. Having them actively participate in the process is a great way to add exposure and overcome aversions. There are even child-friendly kitchen tools that you can use to recruit tiny chefs in chopping and peeling produce.


  8. Use Food Bridges

    Once your child has overcome their aversion to a certain food, use food bridges to introduce others with similar textures, flavors, or colors. For example, if your child has just accepted broccoli, consider trying cauliflower next or other green vegetables.


  9. Set a Good Example

One of the most effective ways to handle picky eaters is to set a good example. Make sure that you and your partner are eating everything that you’ve prepared to mirror positive behaviors with your children. If there is a type of food that either you or your partner won’t eat, avoid cooking it as seeing one parent refuse to eat something will only reinforce a picky eater’s reluctance to try new things. The more variety you have on your plate, the better.

While the above tips can help you through the picky eater phase, some children continue to resist foods and don’t grow out of it. This could lead to serious health problems or children who refuse to eat until they get what they want. If you notice signs that this may be occurring, seek help from a professional. Resistant eaters can be a sign of an underlying sensory disorder, difficulties with oral-motor skills, medical disorders, or serious food intolerances. Your pediatrician can help you learn more about your child’s food-related behavior and offer applicable solutions.

Another great way to help increase your child’s reaction to different foods is to slowly begin incorporating variety when you introduce solid foods while breastfeeding. Byram Healthcare is here to help you along your breastfeeding journey and into motherhood. We make it easy to order an insurance covered breast pump at any time. Get started with our simple, three-step ordering process today.