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17 Tips for How to Get a Picky Toddler Eat Healthy Foods

Updated on October 30, 2012

One of the most common frustrating experiences that parents of toddlers deal with is trying to get their child to eat healthy foods. At this age, kids are starting to learn to define their wants and likes. This often means that they will refuse to eat the foods that they need to eat in order to stay healthy. As a parent, you want to make sure that your child eats right but you don’t want to create a big power struggle over every meal. So, what can you do?

Here are seventeen tips that you might try for getting a picky toddler to eat those healthy foods that you want to make sure the child is eating.

1. Offer choices. The best way to get kids to eat healthy is to give them a choice between two or more healthy foods. The majority of kids will be willing to choose one of the items offered, giving the child some control over his or her meals without sacrificing nutritious food choices.

2. Take the time to get to know which healthy foods your child likes. Many parents offer their toddlers only a few healthy foods and then get frustrated that the child won’t eat them. If you give your child the chance to taste a bunch of different foods that are healthy then your child will naturally like some of these goods even if he doesn’t like most of them. Once you know what he likes, you can include that regularly in meals.

3. Don’t be averse to bartering. “You can have one cookie after you eat three carrots” is a fair way to go when trying to get your toddler to eat balanced meals. However, this should be a standard thing and not a now-and-then bribe. In other words, the rule in your house should be that you need to eat a certain amount of good food to get some junk food; it shouldn’t be something that you offer only when you’re desperate to get your toddler to eat right.

4. Add a treat to each healthy food. Let your child put cream cheese or peanut butter on the celery. Lots of dips and sauces can make your kids enjoy the taste of their food without taking away too much from the nutritious value of the meals.

5. Get rid of the junk food. Another option is to just not have unhealthy food in the house. If it’s not there and your child gets hungry, he is eventually going to eat.

6. Make healthy foods fun. Eggs and avocados can become boats. Carrots can become swords. Broccoli is an obvious tree. Healthy breads can be cut into cute shapes with cookie cutters. Make it okay to play with food as long as some of it ends up getting eaten.

7. Hide healthy foods. You can often include some healthy foods inside of other foods without your child realizing it. Finely chopped vegetables can be added inside of a pasta sauce that your child likes, for example.

8. Include your child in cooking. When the toddler helps to prepare some of the foods that go into a meal, she is more likely to take an interest in eating those foods.

9. Make sure you have a lot of healthy drinks on hand. Kids who are picky about their food are sometimes less picky about their drinks. Fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies rich in fruits and nutrients and other drinks can all add some healthy well-roundedness to your toddler’s diet. Be aware, however, that kids shouldn’t replace all meals with liquids so having these too close to a normal mealtime is a bad idea. It’s just another option to consider when your child isn’t eating enough healthy food.

10. Educate yourself in healthy eating. One problem may be that parents are limited in the breadth of healthy foods that they offer. Educate yourself in a diverse range of healthy foods and keep more options in the home.

11. Have meal time with friends a few days per week. Kids in a group who are all fed the same meal are more likely to go ahead and eat what’s being served so they can get back to playing. Trade a couple of meals per week with your friends and their kids.

12. Make a routine out of meal time. Turn off the TV and the computer when it’s time to eat. Sing a song about mealtime or say a little prayer with your child about the food. The more routine the meals are, the easier the meals will go and that routine can often make picky eaters calm down enough to be at least slightly less picky.

13. Ask your child what she likes and dislikes about certain foods. You may discover that she doesn’t like broccoli because it’s green; add yellow cheese and she may not feel the same way since it’s not a taste issue. Or she may not like broccoli because it’s mushy; cook it for less time and she may like it.

14. Pay attention to your child’s moods. Is your child more picky in the afternoon than the morning? Or more picky on preschool days than weekends? You may want to address underlying problems other than the food issues themselves.

15. Make some healthy foods off limits. This is a trick but it can be a good last resort when toddlers won’t eat healthy. Basically, you make it a point of saying that some foods are “grown up foods”. When your child sees you eating broccoli that she’s not allowed to have because she’s not a grown up, she’s going to want it even if she never wanted broccoli before.

16. Ask your doctor about a children’s vitamin. If you really think that your child isn’t getting the nutrition he or she needs, maybe vitamins are in order until the picky phase passes.

17. Relax. Ultimately, the picky eater is probably just trying to exert some power in the household and some power over his own eating choices. If you relax and don’t make a big deal out of it then the power struggle is gone and the mealtime problems go away a lot more quickly.


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  • profile image

    susan 5 years ago

    Great tips. Just follow these and your kids will have a terrific example that can ensure a healthy nutrition style for life! is perfect for you.

  • profile image

    Julia 6 years ago

    Great article and great tips! I have another article on weaning kids off junk food.

  • mabmiles profile image

    mabmiles 6 years ago

    THanks for the tips. Great hub.

  • ggenda profile image

    ggenda 6 years ago from USA

    This is great! As the mom of three kids (ages 5, 3, and 7 months) I have been there. These are all excellent tips. We will be heading down this road again before too long with our 7 month old. She's still so little, but time goes fast!

    Thanks for the hub. :-) Voted up!

  • Ingenira profile image

    Ingenira 7 years ago

    Excellent tips.

  • eapowers profile image

    eapowers 7 years ago

    Thank you for the great tips- I hadn't thought of sharing a meal with friends to encourage eating.

  • CourtneyLR profile image

    CourtneyLR 7 years ago

    Thank you for the tips! I have tried offering my son choices because I know that toddlers are constantly trying to find their independence. He usually just responds with a toddler's favorite word, "No"! One thing that has worked for me is renaming certain foods. For example, my son loves ketchup so when serving tomato or red vegetable soup I refer to it as "ketchup soup". Works like a charm!

  • profile image 7 years ago

    Great hub! kids nowadays are very picky when it comes to food. This is really useful and helpful to all moms and parents.

  • rsusan profile image

    Rika Susan 7 years ago from South Africa

    Superb tips here! Just follow these and your kids will have a terrific example that can ensure a healthy nutrition style for life!

  • ForMomswithLove profile image

    ForMomswithLove 7 years ago from New York

    Thank you for the great tips!!

  • Ambition398 profile image

    Ambition398 7 years ago

    Routines, that's key. Sit them down at a table, same spot each time, same time, etc. GOod tips here!

  • Helen Cripps profile image

    Helen Cripps 7 years ago from Brighton and London

    Hi, I'm Helen. A little poem I wrote about one of my memories of dinnertimes as a child !

    Jacket Potato

    I make a tent

    for my leftover peas,

    a place to huddle

    when the gravy goes cold,

    safe from my knife and fork,

    circling the half-empty plate.

    Strays are flicked over the edge,

    along with the chicken fat,

    which the dog gobbles up

    before hovering over the peas,

    licking off the meaty juice;

    then, rejecting them,

    he pads away,

    sentencing them to

    death by squishing,

    under my brother’s foot.

    So it’s best

    they stick together

    inside their hiding place.

    And if they stay quiet

    and really still,

    I might

    be allowed

    to have some pudding.

  • ToddlerMother profile image

    ToddlerMother 7 years ago

    Great article! I'm going to follow you! Would love for you to follow me:)

  • profile image

    organic baby food supplies 7 years ago

    I actually want to use special offers you gave in the Blog Good- Post. Thank you so much! I just found this site today and spent almost all day playing around!!

  • snwrit profile image

    snwrit 7 years ago

    This is a great article! I wish I had known of these ideas when I was raising my children. But now I can use them when I have grandchildren. Thanks!

  • hinckles koma profile image

    hinckles koma 8 years ago from nyc

    Great hub.

    I implemented many of the techniques with my six year old. Now in 1st grade the teacher is amazed at how much she eats an everything is basic home whole foods. Simple does it.

  • Ashley Joy profile image

    Ashley Joy 8 years ago

    I was hoping some of your ideas would help me. My new 8 year old step daughter is the pickiest eater I have ever known (and I have known a lot). Feeding her is nearly impossible! Of course it does not help me that she got that way and her mom lets her get away with it. So any work I do on the weekends gets undone during the week.

  • Miss Crayola profile image

    Miss Crayola 8 years ago from Sainte-Marie, QC, Canada

    Good tips, really! I like the one about making healthy food off limits because it's new to me. I'll have to try this at home!


  • profile image

    Kakie 8 years ago

    When my son was a toddler and wouldn't eat much in a sitting, I found that if I kept the food out and every few minutes I would grab a small bit and just walk over to him and put it in his mouth. He would take it and the good thing was it prevented some serious melt downs. Great tips.

  • Ms Chievous profile image

    Tina 8 years ago from Wv

    Thank you for tips. My son is a hard core starch eater. He absolutley loves hard spaghetti and noodles! Hopefully we can have a garden next year and he will get into vegtables a little..

  • Sarah Songing profile image

    Sarah Songing 8 years ago

    Great hub, Kathrn! Thanks for the great tips. I feel lucky that my three year old is a terrific eater, very healthy. But as you said, we don't keep junk food in the house.

    I think one great thing parents can do is to start early. When you first start offering your baby finger foods, if you offer a variety of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and meats; they'll get used to the tastes and textures and (hopefully) these are the foods they'll continue to crave. At least, that's what I'm hoping for with my second!

    Or, you can go the way of Kate Gosselin from Jon & Kate Plus 8, "I'm not a buffet and I'm not a short-order cook." With eight kids, they eat what she makes when she makes it or they don't eat. Tough love!

    Thanks again.

  • LondonGirl profile image

    LondonGirl 8 years ago from London

    Good tips. I reckon that eating healthily yourself is the best way, my son wants to do what his parents do.

    Maybe you could add some paragraph breaks? Your article's a bit hard to read.

  • Triplet Mom profile image

    Triplet Mom 8 years ago from West Coast

    Kathryn, Great advice and tips. I think that variety is key then kids can make choices on their own. Do you have any for the picky husband?!? Just kidding although my hubby is way more picky than my kids.