Getting your toddler to try new foods—or to eat a food they liked last week!—can be an uphill slog at times. Here are ten simple things that can help…and that you can do without bending over backwards to please a picky eater at mealtimes.
Try New Foods
Toddlers, with their love of independence and ritual, love to eat familiar foods. They’re comforting and safe, which is so reassuring. But when that means that a little one is eating the same few foods all week, it can make a parent feel a little crazy! Look, I have to be honest and say that there’s no magic trick here to turn your toddler into a kid who eats everything you put in front of them.
BUT, and this is a big but, if you’re consistent with your approach to feeding your little one, you can gently expand the list of foods they do eat…even if the progress is slow and steady.
Being cautious in toddlerhood is 100% normal, but there are simple things to encourage our little eaters to branch out from their beloved staples. Here are my go-to tips for every day meals and snacks.
Please note that these may not help extremely picky eaters, but they may give you some ideas on where to start with your kids. As always, our words and emotions during these interactions matter, so when possible stay calm and remember that it’s totally normal for kids to not eat every thing we offer them.
1. Offer Small Portions
I’m talking 2 peas, 1 sliver of apple, 1 spoonful of yogurt. New foods can easily intimidate or overwhelm our little ones, especially when it’s a plateful of something unfamiliar. But offering really small tastes helps keep fear at bay (and it can go a long way towards reducing the amount of food that gets wasted!).
2. Start with Foods They Like
Do they like oatmeal with raisins? Try swapping in dried cranberries or fresh blueberries. Does she adore pasta with peas? Try broccoli the next time around. Providing familiarity and variety can go a long way. Explain what you are doing—you will almost never get away with a covert switch—so they understand that sometimes there is one fruit, and other days you get to enjoy another.
3. Let Them Get Hungry
If your toddler is suddenly not eating as well at dinner, try moving back his afternoon snack or eliminating it completely—there’s a much better chance they will eat if they have 2-3 hours to work up an appetite. And if your kiddo does get super hungry and a meal isn’t quite ready yet, you can offer something from that meal that is ready as an appetizer.
(This is mostly to be a reminder that grazing might mean the kids are less likely to be hungry for full meals, not advice to let them become starving before you offer food.)
4. Take Food Outside
This might sound silly, but I swear my kids eat more vegetables when we’re outside. From nibbling veggies straight from the garden—cherry tomatoes, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, you name it—to trying the offerings on veggie trays at potlucks, the fresh air (or something!) seems to help toddlers try new food
5. Talk About the Food
Use descriptive words about the color, the texture, the flavor, and the temperature to intrigue your toddler—not to try to tell them made up stories about the foods giving them super powers. Talk to them like you would a friend if you were offering a new food so they have more information about what it is.
You could challenge them to describe the food too—is it cold or hot? Does it feel crunchy or soft? Who’s favorite color is it? This might get you farther than focusing on “like” and “dislike”. It’s positive, nonthreatening, and fun.
6. Try Not to Push
While this depends in part on personality, many toddlers (and adults!) push back when they are pushed. Because what your toddler probably wants more than anything is a sense of control. So let them have it! You decide what to offer, they decide what and how much to eat it. (This theory is known as the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.)
And don’t sweat it if they don’t eat some of everything—because there will be days when they totally surprise you with what they do eat.
7. Try Not to Take Food Refusal Personally
I can almost guarantee you that whether or not your toddler tries the broccoli, it has little to do with your cooking skills. It’s all about whether they feel empowered, comfortable, in charge, and in the mood. It’s not you…it’s them!
(And consider: How did you feel the last time you ate something just because someone made it for you, say at a dinner party or a holiday, and not because you actually wanted to eat it? Not so good, right?)
8. Remember this is normal
Almost all kids show some resistance towards new foods or foods they are given—it’s part of growing up and learning how to be a good eater. And think back: Did you like everything your mom served when you were a kid? Did you jump energetically into eating all the unidentifiable street food when you were traveling abroad? Probably not (unless you are a way braver eater than I am when traveling!).
There legitimately might be foods that your child doesn’t like, but it also might take them some time to learn to become familiar with other foods, whether because the flavor is different, the texture is difficult to chew, or it looks like something they can’t quite identify.
9. Try to Make it Yummier for Them
I know that I have a tendency to keep veggies really simple, but don’t underestimate your kid’s palate. Flavor is good and it might be the gateway to helping toddler’s learn to eat the foods plain down the road.
So let them taste sauce, add herbs and spices (just don’t go too hot-spicy), and learn what they like. They may also like dips! (Find my best vegetables recipes here.)
10. Keep Trying and Model Enjoyment
It can take exposing a toddler to a new food 8-15 times before they even taste it, so think of your longterm goals. I’d bet that you care more about raising a healthy person overall than whether or not your toddler eats another spoonful of cauliflower tonight. (At least most of the time!)
So keep offering fruits and veggies that your toddler currently won’t eat regularly as you make them for the rest of your family. And show them that you like to eat it and how they eat it. Modeling can go a really long way! You might even set the food on the table family style so the kids can help themselves and relax.
TIP: Download a FREE printable version of the 10 Ways to Help Toddlers Try New Foods chart for easy reference
I’d love to hear if you have tips that work well in your house, so please comment below to share!
This post was first published April 2018.