Letting your 2-year-old exert some control over his world helps support his budding sense of self. Meals and snack times are ideal opportunities to hand over the reins. That said, he still needs lots of guidance, not only about what his options are but also as to what constitutes a healthful, wise decision. Offering too much choice at this age will just overwhelm him—and is unlikely to result in a well-balanced diet.
The ideal is to find a middle ground by letting your child choose but limiting his options: Serve a mix of healthful foods at mealtimes, and let him decide what to eat and how much. And make a point of offering him choices between equally nutritious items: “What would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?” “Do you want the square crackers or the fish-shaped crackers for your snack today?” You might also include him in decisions about meal-related issues that have nothing to do with nutrition: “Should we use the white napkins or the blue ones?”
Encourage your toddler to try new foods, but don’t insist that he eat something he adamantly doesn’t want. It’s important for him to feel a sense of autonomy—and a strategy of patience and nonchalance on your part will be more effective. You might try introducing the rejected food again sometime later, perhaps by serving a mix of his known favourites along with it; offer a limited amount of the foods he likes, so he’ll be hungry enough to sample the new dish.
—Gary C. Morchower, MD, pediatrician and author of The 1001 Healthy Baby Answers: Pediatricians’ Answers to All the Questions You Didn’t Know to Ask