Toddler Troubles: 10 Ways to Deal with Fussy Eaters

Does your toddler push away his plate at every meal – or only want to live off of carrot sticks and Cheerios?  Fussy eaters can be a source of major frustration – and worry – for parents.  Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with your own fussy eater:

Keep Calm!

First off, no matter how picky your toddler is, strive to keep a calm, positive attitude. If you let your anger or frustration show, you’ll exacerbate the problem.  Sometimes toddlers just want to provoke you and if they can get a rise out of you, they’ll go for the negative attention.

Your anger and frustration can actually reinforce the behavior you are trying to stop!

Realize This Is Normal

You are not alone!  It’s important to realize that fussy eating is a phase that many toddlers go through, and a normal part of development.  Take solace in the fact that it’s common enough to deserve a scientific term: Food neophobia, or a fear of trying new foods.  During toddlerdom, some kids will only eat a few foods that they know well and will refuse trying something different.

If you are getting frustrated, remember: This phase, too, will pass!

Remember, It Doesn’t Take Much!

The fact is, that even though it looks like your toddler is pretty much living off of air, chances are they are getting enough nutrition for a growing body.  Your toddler’s stomach is still pretty small at this point, and simply doesn’t need a ton of food to fill it up.  When dealing with a fussy eater, only put very small portions on the plate at one time. Large portions can sometimes cause toddlers to get agitated and push the food away.  If your toddler does finish this small portion, you can always offer more if they’re still hungry.

If you are really concerned, monitor your child’s weight once a month. As long as they’re gaining weight normally and are within range for their age and height, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about.

Keep to a Routine & Minimize Distractions 

Toddlers thrive in a structured environment where everything happens at more or less the same time each day.  Be sure, as much as possible, to have set meal and snack times.

And when you sit down to a meal, be sure to control the environment.  There should be no television or music playing, and kids should not be allowed to have books, toys, or games with them at the table so as to avoid unnecessary distractions. 

Keep Your House Free of Junk Food

Kids who skip meals will sometimes get hungry in between meals and want something to nosh.  Snacking is fine – just make sure to make it count!  Don’t have any junk food around the house. For snacks, offer fresh fruits or vegetables, whole grain crackers with cheese, or other healthy snacks.  This ensures that when your toddler does eat, they’re not just filling up on empty calories.

Set a Good Example

One of the best ways to overcome a toddler’s food neophobia is to set a good example yourself. Strive to have the whole family eat together – for breakfast and dinner at least – and show your toddler that you are enjoying what you eat.  Toddlers are imitators – they look to you for behavioral cues, and your enjoyment will help them overcome their distrust of something new. 

Praise Good Behavior

When your child does try a new food or finishes their plate, praise their behavior.  Positive reinforcement is really important – and will make it more likely that the good behavior will be repeated again in the future. Kids always love to hear praise!

Don’t Force the Issue

Avoid the “clean your plate or else” approach. Not only is the strategy potentially harmful to your child, these battles can set the tone for an unhealthy relationship with food later on.  It can cause a child to view eating as a form of punishment or at the very least something unpleasant, and this is not an attitude that you want to foster.

Resist the Temptation to Bribe 

Let’s be honest – in your desperation to get your child to eat something, it’s tempting to try a little bribery.  How often have you heard parents say, “If you don’t finish those carrots, you won’t get any ice cream for dessert!”  Sometimes, frankly, bribery works. In the short run, at least. In the long run, however, it will simply make desserts and sweets seem more desirable – and healthy foods like meat or vegetables less so.

Instead of bribery, face the issue and help your little one understand the benefits of eating a wide variety of healthy foods.  There are some super entertaining picture books for picky eaters, that your kids will love – quite possibly enough to eat their broccoli.

Don’t Offer Alternatives – But Do Keep Offering!

When you serve up a meal, give your child exactly what you and the rest of the family are having (unless of course there is an issue of a food allergy to be taken into consideration).  If your child pushes away a food, don’t offer an alternative. You’ll be setting the stage for your toddler to demand exactly the foods they want – and you’ll be forced to come up with a separate menu just for them. So offer him the same variety of foods that you eat – and keep on offering them!  A toddler might have to be offered a new food as many as eight times before they’re willing to try it!

What strategies have you found useful to deal with fussy eaters? Share your tips in the comments below!

Tags : health   nutrition   toddlers   picky eaters   

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