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10 Tips to Help Your Picky Eater Toddler Try New Foods

Working with kids has taught me a lot about their eating habits, especially when it comes to picky eaters. Seeing the joy on a child’s face when they try a new food and love it is priceless. That’s why I’m excited to share some tips that have proven to be effective in encouraging toddlers to explore new foods. Whether your child has special needs or is simply a typical picky eater, these strategies can make mealtimes more enjoyable for everyone.

1. Eat as a Family

One of the most powerful ways to encourage your picky eater to try new foods is by eating together as a family. When children see their parents and siblings enjoying a variety of foods, they’re more likely to follow suit. Make mealtime a positive, social experience where everyone can share stories and bond over nourishing food.

According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, children who regularly ate family meals consumed more fruits, vegetables, and fiber than those who rarely ate with their families. So gather around the table and let your little one observe and learn from your healthy eating habits.

2. Introduce New Foods Gradually

Picky eaters can be overwhelmed by too many new flavors and textures at once. The key is to introduce unfamiliar foods gradually, alongside their tried and true favorites. Start with small portions and let your child explore the new food at their own pace. It may take several exposures before they’re willing to take a bite.

Research shows that it can take up to 10-15 tries for a child to accept a new food. So don’t give up if they reject it the first few times. Keep offering it in a low-pressure way, and eventually, their curiosity may get the best of them.

3. Involve Your Child in Meal Preparation

Getting your picky eater involved in meal planning and preparation can work wonders for their willingness to try new foods. Let them help you select recipes, shop for ingredients, and assist with age-appropriate cooking tasks. When they feel a sense of ownership over the meal, they’re more likely to give it a try.

You can start with simple tasks like washing vegetables, tearing lettuce, or stirring batter. As they grow older and more capable, let them take on more responsibility in the kitchen. Cooking together not only encourages trying new foods but also teaches valuable life skills.

4. Keep Meals Fun and Engaging

Mealtime doesn’t have to be a serious affair. Inject some fun and creativity into the experience to keep your picky eater engaged. Use cookie cutters to create shapes out of sandwiches or fruits. Arrange food in playful designs on their plate. Have themed dinners based on their favorite books or movies.

You can also turn trying new foods into a game. Create a “food passport” where they earn stickers or points for each new food they try. Or have a family taste test where everyone rates different foods on a scale of 1-5. The more enjoyable and interactive mealtime is, the more likely your child will be open to new culinary adventures.

5. Be a Good Role Model

Children learn by example, so it’s crucial that you model the eating habits you want to see in your picky eater. If you turn your nose up at vegetables or stick to a limited diet yourself, your child will pick up on those cues. Instead, make a point to try new foods in front of them and express your enjoyment.

Talk about the flavors, textures, and nutritional benefits of different foods in a positive way. When your child sees you embracing a varied, balanced diet, they’ll be more inclined to follow your lead. Remember, your attitudes and actions around food have a powerful influence on your child’s developing palate.

6. Keep Portions Small

Picky eaters can feel overwhelmed by large servings of unfamiliar foods. Instead of piling their plate high, start with small portions that are less intimidating. You can always offer more if they finish what’s in front of them.

Using smaller plates or dividing plates into sections can also make new foods seem more manageable. And don’t force your child to clean their plate if they’re full. Encouraging them to listen to their hunger and fullness cues will help them develop a healthy relationship with food in the long run.

7. Avoid Pressure and Bribes

It’s tempting to resort to bribes or pressure when your picky eater refuses to try new foods, but these tactics often backfire. Forcing a child to eat something they don’t want can create negative associations and power struggles around mealtime.

Instead, offer new foods in a neutral way and let your child decide whether to try them. Praise them for their willingness to explore, even if they ultimately decide not to eat the food. And avoid using dessert as a reward for eating their vegetables – this only reinforces the idea that some foods are inherently better than others.

8. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

Picky eaters may be more willing to try new foods when they’re not ravenously hungry. Keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand for between meals, such as fruit, vegetables with dip, whole grain crackers, or yogurt.

Having nutritious options readily available can prevent your child from filling up on less healthy choices and encourage them to graze on a wider range of foods throughout the day. Just be sure not to offer snacks too close to mealtime, as this can spoil their appetite for the main event.

9. Be Patient and Persistent

Helping a picky eater expand their palate is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time, patience, and persistence to see progress. Don’t get discouraged if your child rejects a new food multiple times – just keep offering it in a low-pressure way.

Celebrate small victories along the way, like when your child tries a single bite of a new vegetable or agrees to have an unfamiliar food on their plate. Over time, these small steps will add up to big changes in their eating habits.

10. Consult a Professional if Needed

In some cases, picky eating can be a sign of an underlying issue like sensory processing disorder or an oral motor delay. If you’re concerned that your child’s picky eating is impacting their growth or nutrition, don’t hesitate to consult with your pediatrician or a feeding therapist.

These professionals can assess your child’s individual needs and provide personalized strategies to help them become more adventurous eaters. They can also rule out any medical issues that may be contributing to their picky eating habits.

picky eater toddler. A picky toddler tries preparing food for himself.
Read more: Food Ideas for Picky Eaters

picky eater toddler. A toddler is having food at the table.

Helping a picky eater toddler try new foods can be a challenging but rewarding journey. By creating positive mealtime experiences, introducing new foods gradually, and modeling healthy eating habits yourself, you can set your child up for a lifetime of culinary exploration and nutritious choices. Remember to be patient, persistent, and celebrate every small victory along the way. With your loving guidance and a dash of creativity, your picky eater will be well on their way to enjoying a wider world of flavors and foods.


FAQs about Picky Eater Toddler

Why is my toddler a picky eater?
It's common for toddlers to be picky eaters as they are exploring their independence and developing preferences. This phase often peaks between 2 and 3 years old and usually improves with time.

How can I encourage my toddler to try new foods?
Introduce new foods gradually and pair them with their favorite foods. Involving them in meal preparation and keeping mealtimes fun can also encourage them to try new things.

Is it normal for a toddler to refuse vegetables?
Yes, many toddlers refuse vegetables due to their strong flavors and textures. Persistence and offering a variety of vegetables in different forms can help them become more acceptable over time.

Should I force my toddler to eat new foods?
Forcing a child to eat can create negative associations with food and mealtime. Instead, offer new foods without pressure and let your child decide whether to try them.

When should I be concerned about my toddler's picky eating?
If your child's picky eating is affecting their growth, weight, or causing significant stress, it's important to consult a pediatrician. They can provide personalized advice and check for any underlying issues.

This post was originally published on 04/06/2023. It was updated on 06/07/2024.

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