Ages & Stages

How to Deal with Your Extremely Picky Eater Toddler

Of course they’re refusing to eat. Just like you did when you were their age.

Some of us might not remember but it happened; we too gave our parents a hard time when we refused to eat what’s on the table.

Now, it’s our turn to deal with them, the picky eaters.

The magnitude of the problem is so great that just a single search will lead you to countless articles discussing the topic.

“How can you help your kids try new foods?”

“Tips when your toddler is not eating”

“What should you do when they refuse food”

“What are the 10 feeding challenges mom face today?”

This tells us that a lot of moms all over the world are having the same struggles.

How to Deal with Picky Eaters

Why are most children picky eaters?

Biological Perspective

To understand why our children are tenacious in eating just sweets and are repulsed by other foods such as vegetables and even fruits, it may help to look into their biology, how their bodies work.

We remotely have an idea how our ancestors, before the dawn of science and technology, avoided being poisoned. We can imagine that it’s through trial and error that they discovered that bitter and sour things mean not good for you, possibly poisonous, and sweet foods mean edible.

Now the same process may be at work at a child’s tiny body. So they refuse broccoli because it doesn’t taste so good. It’s weird to them because they haven’t gotten used to it yet. They haven’t explored other tastes. It may be their young body’s way of trying to avoid being sick.

In an adult’s perspective, the taste of a broccoli may seem just normal precisely because years of experience have made his adult body “understand” that it’s quite safe to eat it, highly beneficial too.

Another possible reason is children seek foods that can give them the most energy. And we know that sugar can provide lots of calories that we need on a daily basis. Sweet things also make children happy. We can all relate because it does that to adults too.

Now, just putting things into perspective, let’s compare the amount of sugar that makes an adult happy with the amount of sugar that gives the same feeling to a child.

How to Deal with Your Extremely Picky Eater Toddler - Sugar and Happiness

As you can see, it takes a whole lot more to induce the same feeling of happiness to children.

What it May Mean if Your Toddler is a Severe Picky Eater

What it may mean if your child is picky eating

Those moms who have already raised children who were picky eaters in their younger years understand that it is simply a phase, nothing more. They grow older, experience more things, and one way or another, get to be exposed to varying tastes of food.

However, it may not always be the case. In an article by WebMD, we are introduced to the possibility that picky eating can be a symptom of depression or anxiety.

The article looks into a study conducted at Duke University School of Medicine. The findings tell us that out of the 917 children who were studied, 18% were moderate and 3% were severe picky eaters.

How can you know if your child has normal, moderate, or severe picky eating habits?

How to Deal with Your Extremely Picky Eater Toddler - Types of Picky Eaters

The study showed that moderate and severe picky eaters are “more likely to show symptoms of depression and anxiety”, the latter are twice more likely to be formally diagnosed in their later years. 

How do you effectively deal with it?

How to Deal with Picky Eaters

We’ve covered the reasons why children refuse food, now let’s move on to taking the right course of action.

It’s very convenient to say that it’s just a phase and they’ll eventually grow out of it. But for a mom currently dealing with the whole thing, it’s easier said than done.

Here are a few tips we can give you:

  1. Avoid added sugar

This works best if your child hasn’t been introduced to the wonders of artificial sugars. But if that’s the case, it wouldn’t hurt to try.

Avoid the temptation of serving sweet beverages with meals, take it easy on the candies, and try to introduce them to fruits as early as you can. Children will eventually develop their love for and, more often than not, obsession with sweets. But you can make the most out of it by diverting their attention to fruits instead.

  1. Make mealtimes fun

You know perfectly well how to get your child’s attention. What’s the color he’s currently fond of? What are the cartoon characters he loves? Does he like trains? Young children respond to these things and you can use this to make them look forward to mealtimes.

  1. Introduce them to a variety of foods

Now that you’ve taken care of making them excited to eat, you have to make sure that there’s not much repetition. As early as you can, introduce them to different foods with different tastes. Maybe you can have a week or two intervals for serving the same food.

  1. Let them have a say in what they eat

When they’ve gotten older, it’s most likely you’ll be dealing with a few retorts here and there. But the table doesn’t have to be a battleground every single time. Let them control what they eat, once in a while. We’re not saying you should let them eat candies for dinner. We’re saying that there are a lot of ways to give them freedom over food.

For example, at home we have this taco and salad night where everything is served separately on the table and we just get what we want to eat. We’d have taco shells, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa, crab meat, corn kernels, boiled egg, croissant, a variety of dressings, etc.

It’s fun and it’s a great way to introduce them to different things. What’s most important in this step is to give them a little bit of independence, and we know how most of them itch for it. And because this is about independence, you should try your best not to tell them to go easy on the cheese and to eat more corn.

  1. Get them involved in the food preparation

Different to the previous tip, this one focuses on the child’s involvement. It’s also a little bit on giving them control but it’s more on teaching them to love the food because they helped prepare it. Make the food preparation fun and exciting for them so they’ll look forward to eating it.

Another way to get the same effect is to let them tag along when you go to the grocery and allow them to add a few items to the cart on the condition that it’s healthy.

Encouraging our children to eat healthy food can be so frustrating but please never give up. It’s our responsibility to teach them appreciation for this kind of thing because it will help them in the long run.

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