• By Talia Follador
  • In Uncategorized
  • August 25, 2020

Tips to Placate Picky Eaters

By Lisa Jones, MA,RDN,LDN,FAND

August is Kids Eat Right Monthwhich highlights the role everyone plays in ensuring a healthy future for our nation’s children. How can you participate?  It starts with recognizing that toddlers do not have the same eating pattern as adults, and that this pattern varies daily. Their appetite also varies, just as yours does. Toddlers may not appear interested or hungry at breakfast, eating just a few bites of cereal, but then devour several helpings of food at dinner. Here are some tips to tame toddler tummies while following their lead and respecting hunger cues!

Model Mealtimes

Model good behavior by making sure your toddler always eats at the table or in their highchair. Picky eaters may want to graze all over the place. It is helpful to eliminate as many distractions as possible and to avoid feeding your toddler too often. You can ensure your child will feel hungry by spacing out snacks and meals at specific intervals, otherwise, toddlers may fill up at one meal and cruise until empty.

Commit to Choices

Encourage a variety of food groups, but avoid giving your toddler too many choices within each group. When providing choices, limit them to two. Toddlers may reject foods simply to control decision-making.  To address this, serve a variety of easy-to-manage foods, but never bribe, and do not create a power struggle if your child refuses to eat. Keep it simple!

Practice with Portions

Avoid overwhelming your toddler with too much food.  Keep portions small.  Use the One Tablespoon Rule—serve 1 tablespoon of each food for each year of the child’s age. You can always add small amounts as needed.

Leave Leftovers

Pushing children to eat gives them negative attention and increases pickiness.  The child’s job is to decide what and how much to eat. The main job of the parent or caregiver is to provide the appropriate foods at appropriate times.  It is actually acceptable to leave food on the plate.  Never force, pressure, or bribe to achieve a clean plate.  Toddlers have small tummies, short attention spans and will eat when they are hungry. 

Find the Fun in Food

Make it fun!  Involve toddlers in buying and preparing food to increase their interest in eating.  Give them simple tasks to do, such as washing carrots or tearing lettuce, and use foods to teach them about shapes and colors.  Try making a necklace out of cut-up fruits and vegetables or giving food fun names such as broccoli trees.

Follow Food Jags

Food jags are common, and toddlers may want the same food day after day.  Go with it—this will run its course.  Toddlers try to establish independence or get attention.  Expect toddlers to object, reject, or complain about new or all food on their plate.  Keep serving new food periodically, though, so you do not contribute to this pickiness.  Toddlers might consistently refuse certain types of foods, but respect their preferences if they are strong and few.  Introduce a sample of a new food when your toddler is hungriest, and offer only one new food at a time.  Having the entire family eat the same thing can often help toddlers to try new foods.

References and recommended readings

Ellen Satter division of responsibility in feeding.  Ellen Satter Institute website. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/childhood-feeding-problems/#the-picky-eater. Accessed August 10, 2020.

Tips for picky eaters. Choose My Plate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/browse-by-audience/view-all-audiences/children/health-and-nutrition-information/preschoolers-picky-eating.  Accessed August 10, 2020.

Toddler food and feeding.  American Academy of Pediatrics website. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Toddler-Food-and-Feeding.aspx. Accessed August 10, 2020. 

Lisa Jones MA,RDN,LDN,FAND is a Philadelphia-based award-winning registered dietitian and nutrition communications consultant. She is a registered dietitian-nutritionist in the state of Pennsylvania and a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Lisa is currently serving as the Past Chair for the Academy’s Nutrition Entrepreneurs Dietetic Practice Group and Delegate for the PA Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She serves on the advisory board for Consultant 360. In 2014, Lisa was recognized as Outstanding Dietitian of the Year by the Pennsylvania Academy, the highest honor bestowed upon a Pennsylvania Dietitian.