Help! My Child is a Picky Eater

Tips and advice to help your child try more foods.

Help! My Child is a Picky Eater!

 

Making peace with food

 

Before you had kids, you likely said that it would never happen to you. “My kid will eat EVERYTHING!” And now, here you are with a toddler who eats only mac and cheese and buttered tortillas. It’s OK mom — this is normal.

“The good news is that picky eating usually goes away as kids get older. Keep up the good work and keep offering a variety of foods to your family,” says Stephanie Holland, RD, registered dietitian at Texas WIC.

Feeding a toddler can be a challenge and parents have a lot of questions. The nutrition experts at WIC gathered your most common questions and advice to help you through the toddler years.

Let’s face it, feeding a toddler can be a challenge

Common Questions

  • plus sign minus sign Before my baby turned 2, he ate really well, but now he doesn’t eat very much at all! Why does my child eat less than he used to?

    Picky eating is very common in toddlers and preschoolers. As a parent, it probably feels like your once adventurous eater started hating everything overnight. 

    Expert Advice:

    • This slowdown in eating is very normal! This is a time when children are becoming more independent and have changes in their tastes. While this stage can be a challenge, the good news is that most children will outgrow picky eating around age 5. 
    • Children have small stomachs and need to eat often. Offer them three meals and one to two snacks each day. Limit food or drinks other than water between meal and snack times. 
    • Keep meals focused and pleasant. Do not bribe or threaten your child, and turn off distractions like TVs, phones and tablets while eating. 
    • Offer foods similar in colors, flavors and textures to foods that your child already enjoys. Bold and bitter flavors may taste stronger to a child.
    • Give food choices. Let your child help you plan snacks and meals for the week. Young children respond well to being asked to pick between two options. 
  • plus sign minus sign What should I do when my child won’t eat?

    Try not to make it a big deal and worry. We know that is easier said than done.

    Expert Advice:

    • Offer new foods together with foods that your child already likes, but do not offer to cook a different meal for your child. Cooking a separate meal may encourage picky eating. 
    • Avoid pressure and don’t force your child to eat because this can make things worse. Instead, offer healthy foods at regular times and allow your child to decide if and how much to eat. 
    • Children like to have some control. Serve foods family-style and let your child choose what they want to eat. 
    • Make family meals important. Children learn by watching others, so set a good example by eating healthy food in front of them. 
    • Make mealtime fun! Tell stories, share silly jokes or talk about your child’s favorite things. 
  • plus sign minus sign My child won’t eat fruits or vegetables. Doesn’t he need healthy foods?

    Every parent has been there — it seems like all kids go through a period where they won’t eat fruits and vegetables. Remember, children need time to develop their tastes and that’s OK.

    Expert Advice:  

    • Continue to offer fruits and vegetables along with foods your child likes.  Be patient! It can take up to 15 tries before they accept a new food!
    • Do not force your child to eat, because this usually backfires.
    • Give silly names to fruits and vegetables. Broccoli can be “baby trees” and you can encourage your own little dinosaur to munch as many trees as possible. Try serving “princess peas” or “x-ray vision carrots.” A small change in words can make a big difference. 
    • Kids love to dip! Try yogurt, avocado, cheese and other dips as a fun way to encourage your child to eat their fruits and vegetables. 
    • Add vegetables to pasta dishes, casseroles and soups. Smoothies are another great way to offer fruits and vegetables!
    • Play a game to encourage your child to eat the colors of the rainbow. Help them learn about how foods grow and where it comes from. Talk about the different shapes, colors and smells of foods.
  • plus sign minus sign My child doesn’t like meat. Doesn’t he need the protein?

    This is very common with young children! Protein foods are important, but many foods besides meat contain protein. There are plenty of ways to work protein into your child’s diet.

    Expert Advice:

    • Non-meat foods with protein include beans, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt, cheese, tofu and milk.
    • Try meatless meals like rice and beans or breakfast tacos with eggs.
    • Try ground or stewed meat or meat softened with gravy or sauce.
    • Cut meat and fish into small pieces.
    • Add bite-size pieces of meat to pizza, spaghetti, casseroles or soup.
    • Add foods that are high in vitamin C like tomatoes, oranges, strawberries, bell peppers and broccoli to meals. Vitamin C can help your child absorb more iron from food to keep their growing body healthy. 

Make New Foods Fun

  1. Make a game out of trying new foods. Try taste-testing new foods when your child has friends over.
  2. Let your child choose a new fruit or vegetable to purchase at the grocery store.
  3. Children are more willing to try new foods if they have helped choose or prepare them, so let your child help you cook meals and snacks. Check out our kid-friendly recipes, many of which have videos.
  4. Cut foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters.
  5. Use fruit and vegetable slices to make silly food faces.
  6. Name a dish after your child, like “Sasha’s Super Squash” or “Aiden’s Apple Bread.”
  7. Every now and then, make breakfast for dinner, or dinner for breakfast for fun and variety.
Make faces out of food. 

I’m worried about my child. I’ve tried all of these and they still won’t eat!

Even if your child does not want to eat new foods, simply putting them on their plate and having them touch or smell the new food is a big step in the right direction. With time, your child may begin to try the foods on their plate. 

Some children may need extra support. Follow your instincts and ask for help if something doesn’t feel right.  

Expert Advice:

  • It’s normal for children to eat more at some meals and less at others. Most children get the nutrients they need over the course of the week. If your child is energetic and growing well, they are most likely getting the nutrients they need. 
  • Contact your child’s health care provider if you think they are having more extreme picky eating habits, especially if they are losing weight or not gaining weight appropriately.
  • Talk to your WIC nutritionist or dietitian for what kind of help is best for your child. WIC can help you find a local health care provider, if needed.
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Maya, The Texas WIC Chatbot
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