Best Tips for Parents of a Picky Eater

Having a toddler who is a picky eater can be frustrating. All you want to do is help your little one grow healthy and strong, but they have other things in mind. So how can you help your toddler develop healthy food habits while ensuring they get the nutrition they need, especially if they’re a fussy eater? Here are some of our favorite tips and tricks for surviving the “I don’t like that” phase.


  • Avoid food fights
  • Keep trying
  • Avoid bribes
  • Change up flavors
  • Make food fun
  • Take your toddler grocery shopping
  • Use food bridges
  • Ask for help


Avoid Food Fights With Your Picky Eater

When it comes to having a fussy eater, feeling frustrated is natural. Although it may seem tempting to argue with your child over what, when, and how much they eat, try to take a deep breath and avoid making the issue into a food fight. Letting your toddler learn to listen to their body and develop an understanding of hunger is important. If a child enjoys a big breakfast or lunch, they may not be hungry later in the day – and that’s okay. However, pressuring your child to eat something, or punishing them if they don’t, can cause them to develop a dislike for that food when they otherwise may have enjoyed it.


Keep Trying to Introduce New Foods

Although we don’t recommend pushing the issue at the time, don’t give up trying to introduce new foods to your picky eater. According to pediatricians, your child may have to taste a food ten or more times before their taste buds learn to like it. In these situations, it’s important to keep two things in mind: keep trying and use small portions! Don’t waste an entire dish trying to convince your fussy eater to enjoy it. Start small and wait at least a week between the same food when trying to introduce something new.


Don’t Bribe Your Picky Eater

It can be tempting to offer your toddler a bribe to try new food, but this exchange can lead to even more problems down the road. Creating a situation where one food is seen as a prize can make that food more exciting while the alternative is automatically less appetizing. Bribes can also lead to more frustration and daily fights over meals.


Change Up Food Flavors  

One of the best ways to help your picky eater try new foods is to use herbs and spices to create different flavors. According to Healthy Children, children between the ages of one and three years need about 40 calories for every inch of their height. Although the exact amounts vary, the American Academy of Pediatrics has a great informational chart that breaks down the servings, calories, and food groups your child should be eating. To avoid food waste, start with small portions and only flavor what you think your child will try.


How to Make Food Fun for Fussy Eaters

When it comes to encouraging your child to try new foods, being creative with the presentation can go a long way. Toddlers tend to enjoy colorful foods in fun shapes, finger foods, and things with dip. Use cookie cutters to create different shapes and choose bright, colorful fruits and vegetables to help encourage your picky eater to try new things. Always ensure finger foods are cut into appropriately sized bites to prevent choking.


Help Prevent Picky Eating By Taking Your Toddler Grocery Shopping 

Another great way to encourage your toddler to try new foods is to make them part of the selection process. Introducing your fussy eater to different options at the grocery store and involving them in the process can be a great way to add new foods to their plates. Ask your child to pick what vegetable or fruit they want as a snack and check out these kid-friendly recipes from you can prepare together.


How to Use Food Bridges With Picky Eaters

A food bridge is one way nutritionists recommend introducing your fussy eater to new foods based on the qualities they enjoy in foods they like. You can create a food bridge by finding foods with similar colors, textures, and flavors. We recommend starting small and finding foods that are very similar to what your child already enjoys. For example, if they like strawberry yogurt, try strawberry banana yogurt. Think about the color and texture of your child’s favorite foods, and then begin branching out from there.


Nutritionists for Fussy Eaters 

Last but not least, there is no shame in asking for help. If your child seems to be avoiding every food you put in front of them, reaching out to an expert can help you feel less frustrated and help your child learn how to experience new foods. Your pediatrician or a nutritionist will help make suggestions based on your child’s needs and give you an idea of the amount of food they should be eating to fuel their bodies.


As infants, children nearly triple their body weight, going from always hungry to more finetuned eating habits. The toddler years are frequently filled with arguments about food preferences, but it’s essential to know when your fussy eater’s habits might be an indication of something else.


If your child cannot verbalize how they feel after eating a particular food, you may assume they don’t like it. However, gastrointestinal issues can also be a cause of your child’s food selectivity. Keep a record of the foods your child eats and any adverse intestinal reactions, and then ask your pediatrician if there could be something bigger at play.


In other situations, being a fussy eater can indicate something more. According to Autism Speaks, children with autism are five times more likely to experience challenges with meals, including a very limited selection of acceptable foods, meal-related tantrums, and ritualistic eating habits. You can learn more about the connection between autism and feeding issues from the Marcus Autism Center’s blog on eating habits.


Almost every toddler goes through a fussy eating phase but finding new foods for your picky eater doesn’t have to lead to a daily meltdown. Try these tips, and be sure to share concerns with your child’s pediatrician to ensure your child has everything they need to grow healthy and strong. Want to connect with parents facing similar challenges? Learn more about the Partnership’s Parents as Teachers program and help your child meet their developmental milestones while making friends along the way.


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