Understanding the Sudden Picky Eating Phase in Toddlers

You’ve fed your baby by breast, spoon, or bottle for the first 18 to 2 years of his life. He ate everything with great pleasure. Suddenly, your toddler starts refusing food. Of course, you worry. Why won’t my kid eat? “Have I done anything wrong?” As a mom of three, a certified Integrative nutrition coach and founder of Yummy Spoonfuls I am well aware of the challenges that come with picky eating.

My two-sided approach will help you to provide the nutrition your toddler needs to thrive.

Why your toddler is picky
You are not the only parent with a picky child. This sudden food aversion is both simple and complicated.

They are becoming more independent. Your child is developing an independent sense now that they can walk and talk. Your child can do many things to show that they don’t like a certain food. They may refuse to open their lips, run away from the situation, protest loudly, throw a temper tantrum, or all of these.
They are becoming more intuitive. Toddlers are beginning to recognize a pattern in their eating habits: the majority of “good” food is sweet, and the majority of unsweetened foods are green. Most baby food products include sweet foods such as apples, bananas and pears with vegetables. Baby’s who are used to such foods develop a taste for sweet food. If you try to introduce a green vegetable that is not sweet, the toddler will notice and reject it. Children are also influenced by parents’ food phobias. Parents who don’t like brown rice or okra will not prepare them for themselves, and so they won’t give it to their kids. Parents should remember that eating is an acquired behavior, starting with the first spoonful. This habit will be reinforced at every meal.
They are learning what they like and dislike. Your child might not like certain textures. Your child may not enjoy foods that are too soft, grainy or chewy. In this case, your child’s preferences should remain consistent. If they do not like crunchy foods they will refuse to eat a sweet, juicy, crisp green apple just as easily as they would turn down crisp, fresh celery. It’s not pickiness that is the problem, but how it is handled.
Consider these tips when introducing new foods to your child.

  1. Do not stop introducing new foods too early.

Most parents don’t realize that food acceptance takes a long time in children. In a 2004 study, published in the Journal of the American Diet Association, 25% of mothers who have toddlers only offered food once or twice to decide if the child likes it. About half of mothers reached similar conclusions after only serving new foods three to five time.

Normal exploratory behaviors such as touching, smelling, and playing with food before acceptance are normal. Some kids take longer to develop a taste for new foods and acquire an affinity. Continue to try and your child will eventually come around. Don’t give in, be consistent and don’t forget that this is a critical time for your child. The foods they consume now are the building blocks of healthy growth and development.

  1. Bring the foods you want your children to eat home.

You can only make your child as picky about food as you are willing to provide. Fill your pantry and refrigerator with foods that you think are nutritious and healthy. Stocking your freezer up with convenience foods that are tasty and nutritious will make it easier for you to live.

  1. Expose children to a variety of foods.

Introduce your child to a variety of flavors and textures, regardless of your personal tastes or dislikes. You may find that your child loves some foods you hate.

  1. Avoid providing too many options for food.

Parents of multiple children often prepare a variety dishes to satisfy the tastes of each child. It is exhausting and unsustainable to cook in short order. This habit only reinforces the bad habit that you’re trying to change. If there are other options available, then no child should be forced to give up being picky. If your child doesn’t have an allergy or sensory problem, they should be encouraged to try everything you offer.

  1. Do not substitute for missing meals with junk food

It is common knowledge that parents of toddlers “pick their battles”, but establishing healthy nutrition habits is a fight worth fighting. Try not to feed your child junk foods just to satisfy their appetite if they refuse to eat because of the choices available. Over time, these empty calories may become unhealthy lifestyle choices. You are responsible for choosing a healthy, balanced diet that supports your child’s development and promotes happiness and good health.

  1. Every meal and snack is an opportunity to feed your child healthy food.

Consider snack time to be a mini-meal and feed your child accordingly. Give your child as many opportunities to try new foods. Try giving your child carrots, bell peppers, or other sliced vegetables instead of crackers or other convenience foods.

  1. Enjoy your meals.

Many studies show that children who assist in meal preparation will eat the food they have helped prepare. So let your child get involved! Allowing your child to assist in the preparation of each meal will make it a family affair. It’s a good way to teach your child that healthy and delicious food don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Prepare food in the most visually appealing and delicious form, and remember to consider your child’s preferences for texture. Don’t overcook the string beans if your child prefers his veggies to be firm.

  1. Do not force yourself to “clean the plate.”

Avoid forcing your child to eat everything you offer, even if you are worried about their nutrition. You child isn’t trying to frustrate, but they are simply learning because everything is new to them.

This is a normal stage for your toddler. Forcing them to finish their food can cause a child’s natural sense of fullness to be lost, leading to overeating. Respecting your child’s fullness, even if you think they haven’t had enough food, is key to building healthy eating habits. You can always use leftovers for a snack.