“No! I don’t wanna! That looks yucky!”
As you start introducing new foods to your toddler, you may hear the above sentence a lot at mealtimes. Picky eating tends to peak during the toddler years1, and there are many reasons your toddler may be picky: they’re becoming more independent, learning their likes and dislikes, and beginning to listen to their intuition.2
How to Feed Your Picky Toddler
While you’re trying to feed your picky eater, it’s important to remember what you can and can’t control about mealtimes:3
Parents can control what foods are served at mealtimes, what drinks are provided, and what (and how often) snacks are provided between meals—use Canada’s Food Guide to plan nutritionally complete meals.
Parents can control when and where food is served. Mealtimes and snack times should be consistent—and toddlers shouldn’t be left alone to eat, they do better when the household eats together. Consistency also helps your little one learn when and how often to expect to eat.
As much as parents may want to control if their picky toddler eats or how much they eat, they can’t—and they shouldn’t try forcing them to. No matter how picky your little eater may be, they won’t starve, and they can certainly be trusted to know whether or not they are still hungry.3
With a strong understanding of what you can and can’t control about feeding your picky eater, some or all of the following five tips can help ease your family through meals and snacks:4
- Set routines around eating and stick to them.Times, places and who your toddler eats with are all important to keep as regular as possible. Even if your little one decides not to eat at mealtime, have them stay at the table until everyone is finished - and enforce a time limit for sitting at the table in front of what you’ve served.
- All for one and one for all—dishes, that is. Make one meal to serve at mealtime and decline to make a second, different dish later on as this may only reinforce picky eating power struggles.
- Demystify new foods—and don’t give up. It may take more than one introduction to a new food for your picky toddler to decide to eat it (or even try it). Get them involved in shopping for meal ingredients and preparing meals to spark interest in foods both new and familiar.
- Teach by example. Your picky eater will notice if you get to have sugary treats and other low-nutrition snack foods. Instead, show your little one that a variety of healthy foods are just as delicious by preparing, serving, and eating them with enthusiasm—they’ll start to follow suit.
- Have fun and get creative. Combine new foods with familiar favorites in unique ways to catch their interest—dips or sauces with new fruits and veggies or a favorite side sharing plate space with an unknown protein. Consider presenting food in fun ways, too—shapes, faces, breakfast for dinner, and always a variety of bright, fun colours.
Meeting Nutrition Needs of Picky Eaters
While you and your toddler navigate picky eating, you may find yourself concerned that your little one isn’t receiving all of the nutrients they need to meet all of their developmental milestones. Discuss these concerns with your child’s doctor and keep a food journal as a reference of what foods and how much your picky eater eats so you have it as a reference. The doctor will likely plot your toddler’s growth on a standard growth chart as one way to assess potential health concerns.
With your doctor’s help, you may decide toddler nutritional supplements or vitamins may help your picky eater get enough of all of the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development, similar to other elements of a healthy, balanced diet.
For more information on feeding your picky toddler, watch this season 2 episode of Enfamil Amazing Milestones. This episode focuses on the challenges with toddler nutrition, including feeding fussy toddlers. You’ll discover why toddlers have their own unique ways of eating and what parents can do to make sure kids are getting enough of what they need.