Here follows some tips for picky eating toddlers. If you have significant concerns consult your doctor or health visitor. You might also want to check out this link to the nhs website which offers some good advice.
I am just a teacher turned SAHM (with authority on very little – ask my kids!) so offer this list simply as ideas to try….
26 Tips for fussy eating toddlers (and older children!)
1) Don’t own it!
Obviously we want to help our little people as much as we can.
I just mean emotionally; don’t own it emotionally. Leave the parent guilt, anxieties and frustrations at the door.
You may have friends whose kiddies happily gobble up homemade fish pie and all sorts….but for everyone one of them, there will be 567 living the same struggle as you.
I often remember what our lovely health visitor said, when she visited us just after we had our eldest; “they’re all born with different sensitivities.”
The other day I was freezing overripe banana (for vegan ice cream – yummy! – kids hate it obvs). Anyway, one of mine was practically retching at the squishy bits. “Move them away Mummy!”
Our lovely health visitor was so right, we all have our own sensitivities to certain things, and those things include food.
Having a fussy eater is not a reflection on your cooking or parenting abilities. Which is why “Don’t Own It!” is the most important tip for picky eating toddlers!
2) Trying plates and bowls.
Mine are far more likely to entertain trying stuff if it is on a separate (preferably pretty!) little plate or bowl.
Obviously it doesn’t always work, but we’ve had some mileage out of them so worth a mention.
Something working once is sometimes all you need. You can forever refer back to it, as evidence of their brilliance!
3) Deconstruction – the most frequently used tip, of all my tips for picky eating toddlers! They get to feel independent too 🙂
Mine will eat chickpea curry if they put it together themselves.
Tbh it started out as a complete faff, but I’m pretty adept now at cooking the sauce, veg/chicken, rice and naan separately.
Naans are tortilla wraps nowadays (more on that later).
N.B. Little ramekin dishes make serving up deconstructed food easier. And fun 🤓🤦🏻♀️
4) Something for everyone.
I try (apparently I don’t always manage it) to have something everyone will happily eat each meal.
Be it a favourite veg, carb or fruit; everyone has something tolerable. In theory.
5) Overheard in the kitchen.
As they’ve gotten older publicly conspiring seems to be slowly (this is a long game!) generating a bit of interest.
“What will we do when they like this food? We will be in trouble then.”
Not massive returns but sometimes we hear “you’re in trouble now” when they decide they like a new food.
These little things sink in slowly I reckon.
The gentle and subtle humour seems to support the notion that eating is not a big deal. Or not cause for a big drama anyway.
6) Don’t try tired (or hungry for that matter!).
You and them!
If they’re tired in the evening (especially if they’ve been at school or nursery) stick to what they know and like.
Mine can (sometimes) cope with being tired but add anything else into the mix to cope with and you’re looking at a meltdown.
I’ve forgotten this a lot over the years 😳🤦🏻♀️.
7) “You don’t have to eat it. Nobody is going to try and make you eat anything.”
Take the stress away.
I don’t mean it in an eat it or leave it and be hungry way, I couple this phrase with…..
8) Safety nets
I often take fruit up at bedtime. Tbh mine know that I’ll let them have fruit, cereal or toast if they really don’t want their dinner for whatever reason.
For me this is about taking everyone’s stress away; nobody is going to go hungry. Nobody is going to be forced to eat (directly or indirectly) something that they don’t want to eat.
Furthermore, they should (in theory again!) all have full enough bellies to sleep 😴🤞
We’ve had our fair share of emotional mealtimes. Enough to make me decide that I don’t want mealtimes to be emotional events.
Now the boys are a bit older these “chaser teas” are far more infrequent. When they happen it’s like “oh yes, I remember these….”
Parenting advice seems to worry too much about doing something once, and finding you have to do it again and again until they’re 45. I don’t buy into this, they change, evolve and grow out of stuff.
I’m more of the view, do something while it works for your family; change and adapt it when it needs changing. Live in the moment and save your sanity!
9) Meal Plan.
Put mains that they only pick at with stodgier puddings – bananas and custard, fruit crumbles… knowing they’re full and will hopefully sleep, always helps my view on things.
10) Serve yourself. Messiest of my tips for picky eating toddlers!
Having two boys 18 months apart seems to bring out a lot of instincts (read feral).
Serving themselves seems to bring out hunter gatherer instincts which can be messy, but does have advantages.
They’re keen to get it on their plates and sometimes the rest follows (sometimes).
11) Buy in and eat out!
Obviously not cost effective if you do it all the time but it really does make for a great break and chance to try stuff (without all the heartache of them not touching it!).
We do home cook meals but if I want them to try a roast I’ll buy in Yorkshire puddings (M and S ones are amazing apparently) or go to a carvery. They’ve surprised me here too.
12) Reward trying!
I’m not a fan of rewarding eating. I imagine it can be done well. I’m just concerned that it might seem that eating isn’t a nice thing to do.
Or that it might encourage them to eat when they’re full or really don’t feel like it.
But I do sometimes reward trying something new. Trying new things to me seems a bit different. The fear of the unknown and all that.
Trying six times (as in six separate thoughtful bites!) equals maximum points in our house.
We talk (I talk! But they absorb stuff I’m sure…) about how it often takes more than one go to like new food. But trying once gets some kudos too.
13) Educate. (Tips for picky eating toddlers (advanced ones!), and school aged children!…..)
Another one for when they’re older; my biggest two definitely show more interest in nutrition now they’re 5.5 and 7.
School have played a big part here for us too.
They’ll happily drink plain water now (they didn’t much at all before school) and understand the importance of a balanced diet.
We tried to tell them but they listen so much more to their teachers! Hats off to home schoolers; I’ve not managed that relationship. Generally my biggest two are convinced I know very little.
Halfway through 26 tips for fussy eating toddlers….
14) Baby Steps.
Now they get the value of veg, I encourage them to try just a tiny bit of their lesser favoured varieties.
My friend at university trained herself to like olives. Why? I’m not sure. But regular exposure seemed to work!
Babies are born crying perhaps partly because air stinks, but they get used to it…..not sure that’s true 🤷♀️….tell them the story anyway!
A tiny bit of carrot for biggest whenever middlest has it, and maybe one day he’ll love it as much as middlest….
15) Give up (but don’t give up).
Confused? I was too!
When mine went through an iffy phase with curry, I was ready to throw in the towel.
One day I had all but given up.
The rice, sauce and veggies went went onto the table (deconstructed as normal). But I also threw tortilla wraps, houmous, sliced grapes and tomatoes into the mix.
Thinking they could just have humous wraps and salad. I couldn’t be bothered with the moaning!
They ended up ignoring the humous and making “tortilla curry pizzas”.
They still rave about them now, well over a year later. In fact this is still how they eat their curry and they love hearing about how I nearly told them off!
16) Let them play; most game changing of all my tips for picky eating toddlers / preschoolers!
I was soooo close to telling them off when they started making “tortilla curry pizzas”.
A tortilla base with rice, curry sauce, grapes and tomatoes on top 🤷♀️
I was sooooo convinced that they were heading to the bin. I was so irritated. They were way too jolly…I felt annoyed…but I let it go….
Best tell / don’t tell off decision I have made; what looked like possible disrespect was actually nothing of the sort.
They were just exploring flavours, textures and combinations and even I would eat a tortilla curry pizza! Quite the invention 😋
17) “Try Day Friday”
Saw this on “Eat well for less” on the TV. Not a regular in our house yet, but want it to be.
18) Talk Growth.
Tell them trying can be tough, but that they’re good triers. Evidence it! Think of other stuff that they have tried.
Make them feel like they’re good triers. Look for the trait in them and you’ll see it more and more.
It doesn’t have to be food based; link the trying skill to other areas of their lives.
I’m sure if you think hard, you’ll find that they’re really really trying!
Tell them your food stories and how you didn’t like this and that, but how you grew and developed.
This is their food journey. They’ll get there. Find your way to enjoy the journey.
Some things just seem to be long games ⏰
Until you look back on them fondly and wonder where the time has gone.
Sometimes it’s just a case of trying, repeating and trying again.
Lots of growth chat to reassure them, even if it feels like you are talking to yourself. They’ll be listening. I find growth chat good therapy for me!
20) In five minutes.
The littler they are, the more they seem to live in the moment.
Sometimes what they don’t want now, they want 10 minutes later. Sometimes I’ve eaten it 😬.
A simple, “Okay, I’ll ask you again in five minutes” can make all the difference (not always possible in life, but a phrase worth having up your sleeve).
21) Look after you – my favourite of the tips for picky eating toddlers!
Cook something you like and eat it with them, perhaps after they’ve had their favourite, safe easy meal.
Let them pick at, try and enjoy grown up food with a full belly. We all grow up with some parent traits; what they don’t copy now they might copy later!
Being hungry can be stressful, trying a few little bits after their meal might get better results.
22) Eat together
Let them get distracted with chat and enjoy eating good food together. Maybe they’ll even pick up some table manners…..😳😷🤢😜.
We need to make more time for this one tbh; children learn a lot from copying you.
23) Eat apart
We do this too often at the moment I have to admit.
At the end of the school day they’re tired, couple that with a toddler isn’t very stable on her chair and you have a “situation”.
A sofa dinner especially when I’m cooking and clearing up by myself, often makes the most sense.
LAZY / SURVIVAL PARENTING ALERT 🚨 Sometimes they crack on better with eating when they’re watching the tv 😬😬😬
24) Cook with them. Bake with them.
I love baking with veggies and it has often proved to be a nice non-threatening way of familiarising them with veggies.
Littlest and middlest both love eating sweet potatoes from their skins. Sometimes. Sometimes it’s “disgusting”.
Sweet potatoes are super lovely and gooey when baked, cut in half, face down in olive oil. Is it any wonder they make such lovely chocolate brownies. And don’t get me started on sweet potato chocolate ganache…
25) Let them be mum / dad. Perhaps their favourite of the tips for picky eating toddlers.
Give them some little bowls of sandwich fillings. Some bread. And let them make you lunch.
Let them see you trying food.
Throw in some choice phrases
- ooh let me just try that again
- oh thank you
- This is a bit different….*dramatic pause*…….I like it
26) Phase it out. Most annoying of my tips for fussy eating toddlers.
Perhaps the most annoying parenting phrase ever invented?? Sorry! Put your hands over your ears by all means.
This phrase has got my goat a couple of times. But it really is just a phase. And it’s their phase.
If they don’t want it, just try again a few days later. Maybe in a different form 🤓. Or perfectly crafted from a packet 🤭.
Kids don’t stay the same for long; before you know it they’ll be eating everything you are and nagging for bigger portions of everything! Or worse nicking it off your plate 😱
So just accept it as their journey; offer and provide opportunities and be their passenger.
Their helpful, knowledgeable passenger with lots of places to go and things to try. They’ll drive this journey whatever you do, so you may as well enjoy the ride!
I really hope that you’ve found at least one useful tip in my list of 26 tips for picky eating toddlers. I would LOVE to hear from you in the comments below.