Is Your Toddler a Finicky Eater?

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finicky eaterWhether you call your child a finicky eater, a fussy eater or a picky eater, it all means the same thing…a toddler who went venture outside the comfort zone of a few favorite items.  If you have a toddler who is a finicky eater, don’t despair.  There are many strategies that you can try to help increase her food choices.

In a new article on, author Lynn Yoffee looked to clinical nutritionist Samantha Heller for some advice.

“A lot of time it has to do with what the parents or caregivers are feeding the toddlers when they started eating solid food,” says Samantha Heller. For example, the Gerber Feeding Infants and Toddlers survey found that the vegetable most consumed by little ones was french fries,” Heller says. “That is about the time when children’s taste preferences begin to develop. Giving toddlers who are 1 to 3 years old cookies, hot dogs, french fries, and other junk food can create taste preferences for those foods that are high-salt, high-fat, and high-sugar.”

Apparently, babies are born with a taste for sweet things because breast milk is sweet. Over time, the taste for bitter or sour develops. Broccoli may be too strong for a 2-year-old toddler, but it depends on the parents too and their willingness to expose their finicky eater to a variety of food choices.

“Worldwide, children in China grow up having vegetables and rice, fish, or tofu for breakfast and they don’t feel deprived that they don’t get sugar-frosted, honey-dipped cereal,” Heller says. “Children in India eat curry from a very young age. Think internationally.”

Heller says that it’s best to introduce a variety of foods as soon as a toddler starts eating solid food. Getting a toddler to try the new foods doesn’t have to be a war either. “One thing to remember is that unless we have interfered by giving toddlers junk and pushing them to eat when they’re not hungry, they are good at regulating their intake. Sometimes you have to let the picky eater be picky. It may take 10 to 15 exposures to a new food for a child to try it.”

I remember when my son, Alex, was very young.  I was determined not to influence him about what he liked and didn’t like.  I mean…just because I didn’t like, say…lima beans, didn’t mean he wouldn’t like them, right?  So, I served him up some, and much to my delight he didn’t like them…so I wouldn’t have to have those nasty things in my house again!

So, if you have a finicky eater on your hands, here are some recommendations by Heller and the American Academy of Pediatrics of ways to get your toddler to give healthy foods a try:

Getting your finicky eater to try new foodsfinicky eater 2

  • Don’t make a big deal out of healthy food.
  • Allow your toddler to help choose healthy foods. Give him three options and allow him to choose one.
  • Make fun shapes and forms with food. Vegetables can be easily arranged into a clown face, for example.
  • Let your finicky eater dip. Use spreads like cottage cheese, peanut butter, or low-fat salad dressings with vegetables and fruits. (And, I even recommend ketchup for the kids who love the red stuff.)
  • Never make eating a punishment. For example, don’t tell a toddler he can’t have dessert until he finishes his meal.
  • Set a good example. “You can’t have parents eating unhealthy food and then expect the toddler to eat something different. They’ll notice and wonder why,” Heller says.
  • Avoid juices, sweetened drinks, or snacks too close to mealtime.
  • Get over a food jag. If your child likes only one food, meal after meal (known as food jags), let him have it. But be sure to offer other foods at every meal before that favorite food is presented. Food jags don’t cause harm and typically don’t last very long.
  • If your finicky eater goes on an eating strike, let it happen. Set limits, be supportive, and don’t be scared to let your toddler go hungry.
  • Give new foods a try. Put a small portion of a new type of food on the toddler’s plate. She doesn’t have to eat it, but keep putting it on her plate so that she becomes more familiar with the new, healthy food. Over time, she’ll eventually give it a try.

When Alex was young, I used to put the same new food out on several occasions, encouraging him to give it another try because, “Tastes change.”  Well, that worked real well until one day I came home from the grocery store with  a dozen cartons of Alex’s favorite flavors of yogurt.  But at snack time, I was surprised when Alex turned up his nose and declared that he didn’t like yogurt.  “But, Sweetie…you love yogurt; that’s why I bought it for you!”  And then my words came back to haunt me…”Well, Mommy, you know…” Here it comes…”Tastes change!”  Honestly, I really couldn’t argue with that.  I just found myself eating toddler-sized containers of yogurt for about a week.

So. the keys to helping your finicky eater to try new things:  Be creative in how the food is presented and served, don’t stress about it and model good, healthy eating habits so she will grow up to be big and strong…just like you!

Enjoy your kids!

Do you have a finicky eater?  What have you tried that worked?  Please feel free to leave a comment about your finicky eater in the box below.

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