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My Toddler is a Picky Eater

Often, food he likes today he won’t like tomorrow.

A Patch reader recently asked Positive Parenting 123, Inc. what she could do to help her toddler, a picky eater who prefers milk to solid food.

Toddlers are infamous for being picky eaters. Some are picky eaters because they are not used to the new textures different foods have. Others are so active that they don’t want to sit still to eat. Some toddlers feel a lack of control since adults tell them what to do all day long.

A way for them to take back control is by not eating. In addition, after a period of rapid growth in the first year, a toddler's growth rate slows in years two and three, so they don’t need as many calories. Toddlers between one and three years old need between 1,000 and 1,300 calories per day.

In regards to drinking milk rather than eating solid foods, take your child to the pediatrician and rule out any medical causes (i.e. reflux, problems associated with prematurity or disorders of the digestive system). Discuss with your pediatrician the amount of milk you give him per day. One suggestion is to reduce the amount of milk so that your child will eat more solid food. Sometimes the child becomes so filled up on milk calories that he is not hungry for anything else. Another very good strategy is to feed solid foods first, then the milk one to two hours later.    

Other tips that may help:

  • Bring your child on a play date with other kids who eat a variety of foods.  He may be more likely to try foods when he sees his friends eating them.
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods. Make sure at least two of the foods on his plate are familiar to him, and one is a new food. Toddlers are comforted by routine, and will be comforted when they see some familiar food.
  • Serve your toddler several times a day since he is so busy and active. What works for some Moms is to put out many different types of finger foods (i.e. cheese, crackers, Cheerios, cut up fruit like bananas, strawberries, etc. and pieces of scrambled eggs) on plates in their den and kitchen so he can snack on the go. This is only a stage and you won’t be feeding them in the den forever.
  • Change the place they eat. Have a picnic on the floor, lunch outside, snack at a toddler table in the den. 
  • Make the food fun – cut sandwiches with cookie cutters into fun shapes.  Make food into smiley faces. Use spaghetti for hair. Ask what they want to eat first, the eyes or the nose. Make it silly!
  • Have your toddler sit on your lap. Cut up some food for him on your plate.  Don’t offer it to him; just tell him it is his food. He may begin to try it when he sees you eating.
  • Play games – pretend to be the baby and let your child feed you. Ask him to “test” the food first to see if it is too hot (you’ll be surprised at how much he might eat). Have the child pretend to be a car or truck. He needs food for fuel, so he needs to eat some food if he wants to be able to drive further.
  • Ask what they want to eat for dinner (give them two choices). 
  • Try offering many finger foods at breakfast. Children tend to be hungrier and may try more things. 
  • As a toddler he likes to feed himself to feel like he is in control. Don’t worry about cleaning up a mess if he is feeding yogurt or oatmeal to himself.
  • Use dips. Try to get him to dip vegetables into hummus or ranch dressing or fruits dipped in yogurt.
  • Read the book, The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine. She offers recipes and hints on how to mix healthy foods into common foods toddlers like, such as meatloaf and brownies.

Remember, when introducing new foods it can take up to 10 times before your child will eat a certain food. Often food he likes today he won’t like tomorrow.  This is just part of being a toddler. Keep serving it to them, but do not act stressed about it. You can even say silly things like “Look at Mommy, what good eating I am doing. I am eating all my vegetables.”

After trying the above tips and your toddler is still not eating more solids, and your gut tells you that you need more help, consider asking your pediatrician about other options such as feeding therapy. The therapist will evaluate your child’s oral motor skill and swallowing skills. In addition, ask your pediatrician about Sensory Processing Disorder. If this is the issue, then sensory therapy will help him to learn to accept new textures and desensitize the mouth. In most cases, these additional therapies are not necessary. However, for kids who need it, the speech or occupational therapist can make a huge difference helping the child eat solids.

It is our job as adults to offer many healthy choices for our children to eat and it is up to the child to decide what they will eat. We cannot force them to eat, nor should we bribe them. We should model eating healthy foods ourselves.  Eventually a child should begin to eat solids, but you know your child best and can decide if extra assistance through feeding or sensory therapy is necessary.  Try not to stress out at mealtimes, as your child feels this stress. Keep it in perspective that he won’t be going to first grade drinking only milk. It is a stage and you will get through it.

Beth Karcher recently founded Positive Parenting 123, Inc. to give parenting workshops to parents expecting one baby or multiples. If you have any questions about this topic or would like to pose a question to be answered, e-mail beth@positiveparenting123.com or visit www.positiveparenting123.com

The opinions in this article are those of Positive Parenting 123, Inc.  The information is meant as a guide and does not replace professional medical advice. Always consult your pediatrician with any concerns you may have about your child.

Virginia Gambardella March 16, 2011 at 10:24 AM
If toddlers only want milk try one bottle ( or sippy cup) of egg nog with orange juice.

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