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Meta: If your previously great eater is now starting to voice opinions on what they eat and refusing to eat foods they used to love, you may have a picky eater on your hands. Let’s end the battle at the dinner table and get mealtimes back to fun family time with these foods for picky toddlers.
Ideas and recipes to help your kids actually eat
As parents, you want to make sure your kiddos get the nutrition they need. You prepare a delicious and healthy meal and all they want is chicken nuggets. It can be a frustrating cycle of bribing, yelling and asserting opinions.
If your previously great eater is now starting to voice opinions on what they eat and refusing to eat foods they used to love, you may have a picky eater on your hands.
This guide will give you some helpful insight into how to help your picky eater as well as recipes and ideas for foods they will want to eat. Let’s end the battle at the dinner table and get mealtimes back to fun family time.
When toddlers become picky eaters
Having a picky eater in the house can be stressful. Before you start making three different meals at dinner, don’t panic, this is a phase and there are things you can do to help.
Around your toddler’s first birthday, children begin to self-feed more proficiently. A toddler’s world can seem pretty out of control to them. When they don’t have much control over when they go in the car and where they go on the weekends, what they eat is one thing they can do something about.
At a year old your child is also talking more, walking, running, and climbing. With all of the new changes in their life, some of the same comforts can be what they are seeking. This may translate over to their food choices. While it may be frustrating, eating the same pieces of chicken three times a day, can be comforting.
One day your child may eat everything and the next hardly anything. Know that this is a normal part of child development. Around a year, your child also has just gone through a major growth spurt. In their second year, growth starts to slow down a bit which can also contribute to them eating less.
How parents play a role
As parents, while your tendency may be to fix things. Know that there isn’t an easy button that will just magically make your kid eat everything you give them. This is normal. At home, however, you can implement some changes and model certain behaviors.
When your child sees you snacking all day, not sitting down to eat, or not eating at all, they may question why their rules are different. You eat standing up over the counter, why can’t they?
Model good eating habits by eating healthy foods right along with them. Sit at the table with them. Engage and have a quick chat. The distraction of talking with you may distract them from putting up a fight over what they eat.
When your baby is little, you can also help them by giving them a wide variety of foods. If you only offer them the same few, they might start to be scared of trying new things.
Expose them to as much food as possible when they are young. Kids are curious and will love to try new foods when they are babies and young toddlers. The idea behind this is that as they grow, they will continue to try new foods and eat a wider variety.
What to do to help your picky eater
To help your picky eater, there are a few things you can do at home. First of all, don’t give up. If you offer your toddler broccoli and they say no, move on but keep offering it several times. Give it a break for a week or so and then try again. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that a child can be introduced to something 15 times before they try it.
If you know your child doesn’t like certain textures, try to mix it up. If mushy food is a problem, offer them apple slices instead of applesauce, for example.
If your toddler loves pizza, place some carrots on the plate with their pizza. Don’t discuss the carrots or ask if they want them. Just put them there and see what happens. Try this every night for a few days with whatever you’d like them to try. Whatever the rest of the family is eating is preferred.
If your child likes sauces, encourage them to dip by offering some sauce with meat or vegetables.
What not to do
While there may be a lot of things your child doesn’t like, there are probably a lot of things they do like. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Offer them a variety of the foods they do like and switch them up often. Offer them something comforting along with something new and don’t make a big fuss about it.
Keep in mind that the more you overreact to their food choices, the more stress you put on your toddler’s mealtimes. Keep things light and take some pressure off.
Don’t force-feed your child either. Give them healthy choices and when they say they are done, trust it. They won’t starve and chances are they will eat a big meal the next time.
Recipe ideas for picky toddlers
If you’re struggling to find a variety of foods your child will eat that are also healthy, there are plenty of options out there that can be prepared quickly and are always kid favorites. Here is a round-up of a few easy toddler meal ideas for your picky tot.
Smoothies are a great place to sneak in nutrition. You can add basic fruits you know they love and mix in some nutrition as well. Try adding a scoop of peanut butter to a strawberry and banana smoothie. Instead of using cows milk you can also add Greek yogurt. Chopped spinach, sweet potatoes, and carrots can also be blended in pretty easily without detection.
2. Make your own pizza
Kids love pizza. Don’t we all, really. Make pizza night fun by encouraging your little one to help you in the kitchen. This might help get them involved in all of your cooking. The more hands-on they are, the more inclined they might be to try something. On make your own pizza night, include some chopped tomatoes, peppers, and a protein to add some nutrition. You could also grate some cauliflower as a parmesan cheese look-a-like or use a cauliflower crust.
Eggs are usually a hit with small children. They are also really quick to make. Scramble some eggs with some salsa, tomatoes, or spinach if your little one will go for it. Have them add these ingredients in so they are excited to try them. If these are a no-go, add ketchup or salsa to their plate and let them dip the eggs.
4. Taco bowls
Taco bowls are a fun way to get kids to try a variety of nutritious foods. You can give them a bowl of white or brown rice and have them add their favorite toppings. Toppings can include ground beef, shredded chicken, avocado, cheese, tomatoes, or salsa.
Some kids just aren’t drawn to eating meat. Luckily, you actually don’t need as much meat in your diet as you may think. If you want to add some extra protein to your child’s diet, start with the ever-popular peanut butter. You can add peanut butter to almost everything from smoothies, toast, bagels, bananas, celery, crackers, or oatmeal. To get your toddler to try more meat, offer ketchup, BBQ sauce, ranch dressing, or hummus.
6. Make your own applesauce
If your child loves applesauce, you can try and introduce some different flavors into homemade applesauce. You can add bananas, strawberries, and even sweet potato to applesauce and your toddler may enjoy a little variety. You can scoop some on pancakes, waffles, or into their yogurt for some extra fiber.
7. Oatmeal with a twist
If your toddler loves oatmeal, try to mix some different flavors and foods into it. You can add raisins, apples, bananas, or granola. If you’re trying to get your little one to try it, add some chocolate chips to it to sweeten the pot. Prepare your oatmeal with some whole milk, coconut milk, or oat milk instead of water for some extra vitamins, minerals, and calories.
8. Finger foods
Toddlers mostly eat with their fingers at first. This makes toddlerhood a great opportunity to add some healthy finger foods into their diet. Carrots, peppers, or cucumbers are all great options to offer with hummus. You can make homemade sweet potato fries to dip in ketchup or crust zucchini with parmesan with some marinara sauce for dipping. Homemade mini muffins are great for snacks on the go as well. String cheese, cubes of cheese, and almost every fruit make for great snacks as well.
If your child has an aversion to sandwiches, try cutting them into strips. You can serve them with some ranch dressing or hummus for dipping. Banana pancakes dipped in applesauce or peanut butter make for nutritious finger food as well.
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