The toddler years are a fun time as children grow increasingly independent and explore the world with an unabated curiosity. It can also be a frustrating time when it comes to the dinner table and eating.
It is important for parents to understand that picky eating is a normal stage for toddlers to go through. A food that has previously been accepted with enthusiasm may suddenly be rejected the next time it is offered. Also, a child’s appetite can vary from one day to the next. Children have the innate ability to regulate their intake to meet their needs.
Research has shown that it can take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food for a child to like it. This takes perseverance and patience. How parents choose to deal with it can make all the difference in picky eating being a phase versus a lifelong habit.
Here are seven tips for persevering through picky eating in toddlers:
1. Maintain the Division of Responsibility in feeding. The parent decides WHAT and the child decides HOW MUCH or IF to eat at all. Honor your child’s hunger by letting her take the lead in eating from the foods provided. If she refuses to eat, then try again at the next meal or snack time.
2. Keep meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times. Children like routine and knowing what to expect. The kitchen should be closed outside of scheduled meal and snack times so that endless snacking doesn’t destroy the child’s appetite come meal time. Offering healthy snacks that are more like mini-meals helps bridge any nutritional gaps.
3. Always offer something at the meal that you know the child will eat, even if it is only bread and milk. Having a familiar food on the table helps put the child at ease as well.
4. Take the pressure out of eating and refrain from bribing with special treats as these tactics backfire in the long run. Meal times should be a time for connecting with family and not a power struggle over eating, which is going to be a losing battle.
5. Do not succumb to only offering foods that you know your child will eat or cooking special foods different from the rest of the family. It is important to offer a wide variety to help expand a child’s palate.
6. Eat together as a family as often as possible and model good eating habits. Children are keen observers and are influenced by their parents and siblings. This is also an opportunity to teach your child table manners.
7. Involve your child in meal preparation. Even 2- and 3-year-olds can take part in helping prepare meals such as stirring, rolling, mashing and hand-mixing. When a child takes part in helping prepare a meal, even if it is just a small part, they are more likely to try the food.