Inside: How to deal with stubborn picky eaters and toddlers.
“Mommy, can I have a raspberry?” my four-year-old asked me.
Picking my jaw off the floor, I attempted to be cool. “Sure, honey. Go right ahead!”
Why is this a surprising encounter for me? Because my 4-year-old is a picky eater and it is almost impossible to get him to eat new and healthy foods. He’s stuck in his carb and dairy diet, and there’s little we’ve been able to do about it. Until recently that is. Keep reading to learn how we are getting our picky eater to try new foods.
Dealing with picky eaters toddlers
What is a picky eater?
“Picky” eating is when a child refuses foods often or eats the same foods over and over. Picky eating starts around age one and usually peaks in the toddler and preschool years. (Source)
Understandably, parents are concerned about their picky eaters because we fear our child is not getting enough nutrition. I tend to rely on helper products to ensure (see what I did there?) that my child gets adequate nutrition. Our favorite is Sidekicks.
Do you know who are picky eaters? Toddlers! That’s such a typical stereotype that we almost expect little tiny humans to eat poorly. But some toddlers are willing to eat certain foods, and some toddlers refuse to eat!
How to get a child to eat when they refuse?
It is so hard to get a toddler to eat when they don’t want to. My picky eater is so stubborn he makes himself gag (sometimes even throws up) if he doesn’t want to eat something. It is horrible!
As an infant, my son was a “food goes in here” machine. Open mouth, insert all the food. Shortly after his first birthday, he flipped a switch, and he suddenly wouldn’t eat anything that isn’t bread, cheese, and peanut butter.
We recently started speech therapy for my child, and part of speech therapy includes feeding therapy. They began observing for sensory issues and checking his jaw strength for chewing and such.
Do you have kids who are picky eaters, toddlers or preschoolers?
How to get 3-year-old or 4-year-old to try new foods
Here is what we did in our speech therapy class, the second part which was food aversion therapy.
I brought in several foods, some preferred (meaning he will eat them willingly) and some unpreferred (foods he won’t touch).
Each week (our therapy class was weekly) I would try change a little in the foods I would bring, but continue many of the same ingredients.
I would almost always bring a yogurt, he loves those, and later started bringing those cute Babybel cheeses (the little round ones you peel the red outer layer out). He loves opening them up, and always asks for them, so we started using them as a “prize” for trying other foods during therapy.
I also bring fruits and vegetables, since that’s the goal to get him to eat. I’m starting simple, with items like carrots, raspberries, and blueberries. He’s not willing to eat any of those at home.
Then the therapist leads us in food exploration and tasing.
Build with new foods
One thing that was kind of weird to me at first was the playing with the food part. The therapist would have us all (me, her, and my son) put some of each item on our plates. Then we talked about what we could build with the food.
Sometimes we built a little train. Sometimes made a face. The building process required manipulating the foods, sometimes biting chunks off to have smaller pieces for wheels or eyes, for example.
It was kind of strange, but I understand. Toddlers learn through play, and playing with food makes it less scary to them.
Use all the senses when trying new foods
Another tactic our therapist used was to taste, smell, and feel the new foods. This also helped with the speech therapy portion of our session. We talked about how the food item feels in our hands and how it smells. We discussed whether the food was salty or sweet, soft or crunchy.
Focusing on answering the questions helped my child concentrate less on the taste of the food, and he was more receptive to playing along.
Play games and challenges with new foods
My four-year-old is already quite competitive. We started playing racing games. Who can eat this item the fastest? He can’t handle being last, so he has to try it to win.
We also play magic tricks. Can you make this raspberry disappear? Abracadabra!
I also like the “if you can eat two raspberries, you can have a piece of cheese” challenge.
Most importantly, don’t pressure a child to eat new foods
This one was the hardest for me in dealing with my stubborn picky eater. My gut feeling is stubborn kids need to be shown they are not boss. I’ve always been raised with the “you will do as I say” approach and I thought it made sense to do that with my child.
But that’s when the gagging started. And I still can’t tell if he’s doing it on purpose, or if it’s truly an aversion or sensory reaction to the food.
But taking the pressure off is what helps. Letting the child have exposure and play time with the foods. And then removing the fear and pressure to keep eating it.
What to feed picky toddlers
It was important to provide many food choices, letting him eat what he is comfortable with, plus trying something new.
It’s best to keep things simple and try realistic toddler meal ideas and allow the picky eaters and toddlers to control how much of the foods they are willing to eat and sample.
If you’ve seen those fun feeding toddlers photos, you’ll see divided plates with a variety of foods on them, touching most of the food groups and spanning many colors. This type of meal is what we as parents want our kids to be eating, though it isn’t always realistic for extremely picky eaters.
Back to the story. Why did my child ask to eat a raspberry?
I was getting out the package of raspberries to put in a baggie to take to speech the next morning. I got distracted and left the container on the counter. Suddenly my son notices the raspberries and asks to eat them. Of course, we agree, and he divides up the package between Mommy, him, and Daddy. It was such a wonderful win, and I praised him for his excellent choices and sweet sharing. I hope to see more of those moments in the future.
My goal is to get my little boy to enjoy eating berries and simple vegetables like carrots and peas. I know it is a gradual process, but we’ll get there if we keep up with this feeding therapy and the tips we learned to help picky eaters try new foods.
How are you dealing with picky eaters?
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