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Ideas for Feeding a Picky Eater Toddler

Updated on April 17, 2013

A laid back guide to fussy toddler eating

Do you have a picky eater toddler Frustrating isn't it? As a Mom to a fussy toddler, I've collected some ideas that are worth trying. And some advice on keeping your cool and managing to enjoy mealtimes with your child while doing your best to make sure they eat a reasonable diet.

If you're after perfect this isn't the right place! We don't think ketchup is evil and we're willing to shape food into dinosaurs if that means it gets eaten.

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Why is my toddler a picky eater?

It can be very frustrating to have a toddler who is a picky eater. At some point you'll probably wonder 'why is my toddler a picky eater.

  1. One option is that your toddler isn't actually a picky eater at all relative to other toddlers. You'll naturally compare the eating habit of your toddler to other toddlers you meet. Do they all eat carrot sticks, hard-boiled eggs, tuna and other items your toddler won't touch? Well some toddlers do naturally eat a great variety of foods, but you might not be seeing representative eating. Maybe carrots are the older fruit or veg that child eats all week. Maybe hard-boiled eggs are the only healthy food that the toddler will reliably eat, so their Mom has chosen that food very carefully.
  2. Another option is that your child is normal for a toddler. Most toddlers are picky eaters. or are seen as picky eaters by adults. They don't eat in the same way as us. They are more likely to snack. They're not keen on trying new things (possibly to avoid them eating dangerous foods in earlier times?) They don't necessarily need as much food as we think they do. And maybe that Broccoli really does taste horrible to them!
  3. Or maybe it really is your fault. Maybe your toddler just doesn't like your cooking. Maybe your just a bad parent. Probably not :-) I have two boys close in age. They have been fed similar foods. The older one was a fussy toddler and is now a picky preschooler. The younger one, currently aged 2.5, is much more adventurous with his food (and with life in general). Okay, so it's a small sample size, but I'd say their different attitudes to food are just part of their different personalities. It's not because we did anything different with them.

Why I don't worry about my son being a picky eater

They won't starve themselves

Although my older son was clearly a picky eater as a toddler, I didn't really worry about it. Partly because he has a brother 20 months younger and I didn't have time to. (And no, his picky eating wasn't a reaction to a new baby. It's just him.) And partly because he was obviously doing just fine. And I developed enough strategies for dealing with his fussiness that I was okay with his diet. And yeah, clearly he wasn't going to starve himself! (There are kids with eating disorders. A typical picky toddler really will eat when they're hungry.)

Ideas for Feeding a Picky Eater Toddler

Compartmentalised Toddler Plates

Plates with separate compartments

You've probably seen compartmentalised toddler plates. They make those for a reason. Lots of toddlers are fussy about foods touching each other. My son would insist that an entire meal was inedible if something suspect (like say pie crust) touched something he was happy to eat, liked mashed potato.

We bought some compartmentalised toddler plates because we liked the design. Then it dawned on me, why they are like that. Brilliant. At least now I didn't have to throw away food that he actually liked, which was frustrating to say the least.

So there you go, tactic 1 - compartmentalised toddler plates. Simple but effective. Choose a toddler plate with three compartments - in our experience, two isn't enough.

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Playtex Buzz Lightyear Plate, Toy Story, Designs May Vary@ Amazon


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Butterflies Divided Plate@ Amazon


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It's amazing what you can convince a toddler to eat with a bit of dip. When our son was a smaller toddler we used natural yoghurt as a dip. Yeah sometimes he would just eat the dip. But at least it was a healthy dip. We would add a dip to meals that didn't particularly need one.

And of course there's ketchup. It's probably not evil ;-) If you're worried you can make your own. Otherwise just buy a good quality one and check the ingredients so you know what you're giving them. We get through a lot of ketchup. (I'm not exactly proud of this fact, but it doesn't keep me awake at night).

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Yeah, you've heard that one before, right? Get your toddler involved in preparing the food and they'll be keen to eat it. Didn't work for us. Our son could happily help prepare a meal and then refuse to eat it 30 minutes later!

But, what did work was letting him eat the food as he was preparing it. Sneaky. He would happily try bits of raw pepper and cooked chicken as we assembled a pizza. Once I realised this I just went with it. If he picked while we were preparing the meal and then didn't show much interest in the actual meal, that wasn't really a problem. He also got the pleasure of having helped cook for his parents and learned more about food.

Our FunPod was a brilliant help here. He could safely stand in his 'box' as he called it. No risk of falling off a stool or getting close to hot food.

Villeroy & Boch Twist Alea Caro Dinner Plate

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It tastes better off Dad's plate. No I'm not suggesting you give your toddler the best china. Actually ours never threw anything so they did have proper bowls from very young as they were heavier and stayed put more easily that plastic ones. But that's not the point we're on!

Our picky eater would often eat very well if he thought he was stealing his Dad's food. He thought it was hilarious to sneak pieces of chicken or fish off his Dad's plate while he wasn't looking. It required a bit of extra effort from his Dad, but it made mealtimes hilarious instead of miserable and frustrating.

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Well he's now a picky preschooler ;-) Well compared to his brother that is. He's still cautious about trying new things, but will generally do so willingly and is pleased when he finds something new that he likes.

I still pack reliable favorites like cheese sandwich with cucumber chunks in a separate pot for his lunch at preschool. He still likes to have food separate on the plate, but does experiment with putting foods together. He generally isn't keen on anything spicy or strongly flavored, but every now and then he surprises us. He loves fish and meat of any kind. He thinks he's a carnivore! He eats peas and sweetcorn and occasionally other veg, and he'll usually have a bite of other veg. Potatoes must be mashed or baked. I suppose him not liking fries is an upside. He loves fruit of almost any kind. Oatmeal has always been a favorite and he happily eats unsugared breakfast cereals. There certainly are cakes, cookies and chocolate involved in his diet, but there's plenty of good stuff too. He'll be fine ;-)

I do find it a little frustrating cooking bland meals. But I add spices and sauces after serving the children's portions - his little brother usually wants to try what we've got. I regularly cook meals that I know he won't eat and encourage him to try it. If not he gets a banana.

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Often children will accept food more readily from someone other than their parents. No, I'm not suggesting you get strangers to offer your children food! But aunts and uncles, family friends and neighbors are worth a try. This can be especially effective if they have children of their own and just feed your child along with theirs.

Have your child sit at someone else's table and be served food and who knows. Maybe they'll try something new.

Only last week I gave my niece a hot cross bun. Her Mom watched amazed as she devoured it because 'she doesn't eat hot cross buns!'

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Yeah, here comes the airplane ... In our son's case, dinosaurs helped. Tell him that Baryonyx ate fish, or T-Rex ate meat and things were much easier. Get him to pretend to be a Triceratops and eat his greens and you had a chance.

Making dinosaur themed food helped too. It's amazing what you can do with dinosaur shaped cutters - dinosaur sandwiches, dinosaur pie crust, dinosaur pizza, dinosaur bento rice, ... Of course, choose the right shaped cutters for your child.

Do you have any ideas to add on encouraging picky eater toddlers?

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Comments - About picky eater toddler ideas

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    • MoreThanAMama profile image

      MoreThanAMama 4 years ago

      I love these tips! I like the compartmental plate idea. Walmart sells one by MyPlate with the food group sections. I've been thinking about getting one for my picky toddler.

    • profile image

      MadameJoy 4 years ago

      It's amazing how critical food becomes when you have children. It's a huge social issue too, as healthy food becomes more and more expensive. Why don't we all just inhabit one acre of land and eat right from it. No matter what kind of land you live on, technology will allow you to grow numerous kinds of food.