Dealing with a Picky Toddler
This post is for the moms who have an older baby or toddler (18-36 months) who used to eat any and everything and have just stopped doing that. It’s accepted that babies who are weaned the baby led way tend to be less picky later in life. The biggest reason for that is that when you start with purées, your baby gets used to soft mushy foods and may not be interested in table foods because of texture. Another reason is that when you do BLW, you introduce a lot of foods and flavors and spices and textures. With TW (traditional weaning) you tend to stick to plain fruits and vegetables and meats. Less flavor, fewer spices.
Again those are just “typical”. There are always exceptions, of course.
Maybe you did BLW from day 1 and your baby tried all sorts of things for a long time. But now he doesn’t eat anything new and just likes the same 3-4 foods.
Or maybe you did TW from day 1 and introduced table foods much later, and your baby would try a variety of foods.
It doesn’t matter much how you got to this point. Your baby is a little older now and doesn’t try new foods. She only likes blueberries and pasta and cheese and Goldfish crackers.
I’ve been running this page and social media accounts for over 1.5 years now. In that time, I have received hundreds, maybe thousands, of comments, concerns, and questions regarding a picky eater. And almost all of the time, the child is between 18 and 36 months. Before 18 months, it’s typically a short phase that lasts a week. But somewhere between 18-24 months, kiddos find out that they have a voice and an opinion. Vocabulary starts to increase tremendously, and most little ones learn they can say NO! They can specifically ask for a food they want.
When that happened here, I can’t tell you how happy I was. Alexander was finally able to tell me what he wanted! It made snack time easier. If he didn’t like what I had made (which wasn’t every day), I could ask what he wanted instead. After a few weeks, I started realizing that what he wanted was almost always the same thing: applesauce. Sometimes it was blueberries, sometimes a glass of milk or water. But I’d say 90% of the time, he wanted applesauce.
Is applesauce a bad thing? Well, no. It’s just apples that have been steamed/boiled/cooked in some way, then mashed or puréed. But it can’t be the only food that someone eats!
Here are a few other things that Alexander eats consistently (at 32 months…. 2 years, 8 months):
- bread or toast
- cereal and milk
- peanut butter
- blueberries or blackberries or strawberries
- pancakes and muffins
- juice (though he hardly ever gets it; I’m not sure why he asks for it!)
- mashed potatoes
- mashed sweet potatoes
- fried potatoes (skillet hash browns, sort of)
- shredded cheese
- baked apples
- grassfed butter
This is the same child that used to eat eggs any style, any meat, nearly any vegetable, nearly any fruit, and pretty much every thing I made. He might not eat it all, but he would certainly try it.
Now it’s like pulling teeth to get him to try anything. Yesterday, he pretty much ate bread and fruit all day. He also had one bite of avocado and a few bites of baked sweet potato. But it was a banana, applesauce, blueberries, oatmeal, cereal, and a little milk.
[I was pregnant and tired, so I let him have what he wanted. We were at the hospital having a baby, so I told the babysitters (a friend and then my mother) to let him have whatever he wanted. Then he was having a tough time transitioning to a new baby, so I let him have applesauce until he was blue in the face. We are working on undoing those new obsessions.]
I’m NOT an expert, and we are not out of the woods yet. But I want to share a few ideas that have worked, things that you can try too. [If your child has never been picky and still lots to eat all sorts of vegetables, count yourself lucky! From my experience, it’s more likely than not that a toddler, somewhere between 18 and 36 months, will be picky for a while.]
- The obvious solution is to just say NO. Don’t offer the fruits and breads and treats (whatever that looks like in your house). Offer only meats and vegetables and a little fresh fruit. And if he doesn’t eat, SO BE IT. Be firm. He won’t starve himself forever. You can force your little one to go cold turkey. That isn’t MY style, though.
- A somewhat obvious solution: Offer a few good foods and don’t put out the treat (from now on, I’ll just say “treat” when I really mean whatever your kiddo is obsessed with… for me, that’s applesauce!) until at least 10 minutes into the meal. Your child is more likely to eat good stuff if she’s hungry and that’s the only option.
- Hide good foods. In my case, Alexander likes a few things that I can easily sneak veggies into: meatballs, pancakes, smoothies. I can easily add some spinach or broccoli to all 3 of them. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know that the veggie is in there, so he isn’t developing a taste for it. And he can’t drink green smoothies as his sole source of vegetables forever. In a pinch, when you’re worried about calories and nutrients, those are fine substitutes for pure, prepared vegetables.
- Offer the good stuff in a new ways. If that means letting him listen to music and walk around while he eats, try it. If that means eating off your plate for a week or two, try it. If it means eating outside, or in a different room, or whatever, try it.
Be enthusiastic. Be a good example of what good eating looks like. If you’re drinking a soda and eating fries for lunch, you can’t expect your kiddo to eat a baked sweet potato. Get active. If you and your toddler are running around, jumping, tickling, playing, you’ll wear him out! And as we all know, worn out = hungry and thirsty. After a workout, you feel like you could eat a horse. Get active with your child then offer up a hearty omelet or loaded baked potato. He’ll be more likely to dig in after a good “workout”.
Next to last note: Create a log of what your toddler is eating on a WEEKLY basis and not by-meal or by-day. You may be surprised that it’s pretty varied.
Finally, try not to lose your cool. Try not to get frustrated. You did nothing wrong! Your child isn’t being difficult. It’s a very common stage! And it will pass, like any other stage. It may take a while, but it will pass.
Do you have any tips for feeding a picky toddler?
[DISCLAIMER: I do not agree with making a separate meal for a picky child. I think you can offer what you are having plus one additional thing that doesn’t require cooking or planning, like blueberries. If you want your child to eat a sweet potato for lunch, I suggest making two of them so you can eat one as well. Two meals is extra work and will only perpetuate the pickiness!]