How to Get a Picky Eater to Eat (Toddler)

Griffin was such a picky eater that I seriously thought I’d have to admit him to the hospital and put him on a feeding tube.

And let’s face it; few things bring us more satisfaction than seeing our kids well nourished. Somehow I feel I’ve “failed” if this isn’t the case. But, alas, sometimes we get a picky one – or our good eaters go through picky stages. When that’s the case, try these 8 tips to get back on track.

How to get picky eaters to eat video

8 tips to get your picky eater to eat

1. Feed child three meals and one snack a day

As mamas, we often think that we need to be feeding our kids 24/7 to be sure they’re getting enough nourishment. But I’ve found that it’s important to let our kids actually get hungry before we set them down for a meal. So breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner. And a little nursing or drinks in between.

2. Let them feed themselves

I’ll admit it. I spoon-fed my guy until he was about 14 months old because I was sure I’d get more in him. It was becoming annoying for both of us so I stopped. And once I did, he started eating more! Kids enjoy the satisfaction of feeding themselves.

3. Don’t encourage, beg or even watch them eat

The more I pushed food on Griffin, the more he’d resist. With picky eaters, there’s usually a power struggle going on. So the best tactic is just let them be. By not interfering, your child will actually love satisfying his own hunger. It’s a beautiful thing!

4. Provide colorful, flavorful variety at each meal

Kids like to try different tastes if we start early. My goal is to rotate fruits, vegetables, starches and proteins as much as I can. I also dress foods with spices and condiments. (My guy loves spicy Dijon mustard! Who knew?) Avoid the easy food ruts like buttered noodles or blueberries, and expose your child to new flavors to avoid picky eaters.

5. Try some props for your picky eaters

Let’s face it, kids have the attention span of goldfish; a half hour in the high chair can seem unbearable. Try putting that chair in from of a window so they can look out and see birds, cars and life going on.

You can also put washable books on their high chair so they can look at pictures as they eat peas. Even a little car or doll can keep them company.

6. Keep challenging them with new eating behaviors

Towards the end of a meal, reward your child by letting them practice a more grown-up eating behavior. If she’s still eating with her hands, let her practice with a fork or spoon. If he still uses a sippy, let him drink straight from a glass. If she’s still in a booster chair, try dining without one. All of these boost confidence – and can help get a few extra bites in as well.

7. Allow them to be part of the food choices

As your child gets older, let them pick between two food options. Do you want corn tortillas or rice noodles? Do you want strawberries or pears? By allowing your child to pick which food, they’ll feel more in control and excited about eating.

8. Include your picky eaters in food prep

Can your child crack an egg? Stir yogurt or butter toast? Let them help as appropriate for their age. Don’t think just because they are 18 months they can’t take part in some way! By just watching me crack and cook an egg, Griffin now loves them!

It is possible to turn picky eaters into good (or at least decent) ones

I know this firsthand, and these tips helped me do it 🙂

Do you have picky eaters?

I know that many of YOU have your own tips and tricks up your sleeve. How about it? How did you approach the issue? Share with us so we can learn from each other.

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18 Comments

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  1. I’m trying to work through this with my newly minted 5 year old. She used to eat anything and everything under the sun but at about 3 1/2 she stopped. I don’t let her graze and she sometimes gets a snack (I let her decide if she wants one or not) but she has a few key things she will eat but not much else. I’ve tried involving her in food prep, letting her choose (within reason) some things for dinner but she will still go on hunger strikes. I keep trying to stay positive but I really thought she would have made some progress by now. Any other suggestions would be great!

  2. I am looking after a 3 year old boy who refuses to eat fruites or veggies. He only wants hot dog, lunch meat, french fries, or spagettie with meat sauce. What can ı do?

  3. I have a 19 month old girl, extremely picky with food. Never wants to touch anything unless it’s a cracker or a cookie. I have been spoon feeding her mashed rice and lentils along with mashed veggies. Also, still pureeing her fruits!! And this has been her lunch and dinner for last 7 months!! I have lost out on ideas and ways to make her eat by herself coz anything else we try to do she either resists or throws up.. if u have any suggestions, I would be more than happy to try!

    • If these tips don’t do the trick, you might want to have your lo evaluated by a speech therapist for oral motor sensitivities. My daughter’s mouth muscles were very weak in some areas, so she was afraid and unable to eat more squishy textured foods & relied on bread & crackers. After 6 weeks of therapy I have seen a HUGE improvement in the amounts of foods she will try and also her speech! Sometimes they need a little help! The therapist said especially if a child refuses everything in a category.. For example, doesn’t want any fruit or meat.. That could be a sign of a muscle weakness.

  4. Frustrated, first time mom…my 8 month old decided she doesn’t want spoon fed food…I’ve tried to give her mashed up items for her only to make a mess & gag. She is strictly BF, trying to transition to food to no avail…do I need to worry if she isn’t wanting to eat solids?

    • At 8 months old I wouldn’t worry too much. Make sure you are eating healthy and she will get all the nutrients she needs from your breastmilk. At her age eating is more of getting used to foods than nutrition. My son gagged on foods a lot until around a year old so I could only feed him baby food. He was also picky so I had to mix breastmilk in with a little baby food for him to get used to a mild flavor of the food. I would eventually mix more and more baby food in with the milk. Try not to stress over what she eats because the stress will make her not want to eat. Offer one food every time you sit down to eat and if she doesn’t eat it then it’s ok. You can even dump some out and let her play in it with her hands and a spoon. Most of all keep meal time fun and stress free! You can do it!

  5. Hi Genevieve!
    First I wanted to tell you how much you have helped me in putting into practice what I knew was the right thing to do, just didn’t know where to start, like throwing away all the household chemical products I had, new recipes, tips on breastfeeding, etc! Thank you so much!
    I have a question about picky eaters. I have a toddler, he’s one and a half years old and is very picky. He eats well but he won’t touch anything with his hands besides crackers and some fruits. I put vegetables in front of him and he can’t care less. He likes to be spoon fed and he only likes certain foods. I’m getting so frustrated! Is that normal?
    I will keep offering him cut up fruits and veggies but my question is, if he doesn’t eat what I put in front of him, should I just always give him what he’s used to? Isn’t he going to refuse the chopped vegetables and fruits because he knows I will give him what he likes after?

  6. I was surprised when my 2yo LOVED dried mango with chile on it (from Trader Joes store)… Now I’m more open to him eating spicier food which I thought wasn’t age appropriate or he couldn’t handle it… This kid loves the tangy and spicy!

  7. I teach nutrition workshops for kids, and I have realized that most kids will be more likely to eat a variety of foods or will try new things if they have a hand in the preparation. It might not happen over night, but eventually they will get curious and become less daunted by the food if they are comfortable around it. Teach them to create a plate that looks like a rainbow. Talk about how each color makes their bodies happy and strong. Encourage them to try at least a bite, and continue to do so until they adapt the flavor or texture. If they don’t like it after 7 times, then continue trying with other foods. Consistency and encourage work best – ESP if they are past 3 yrs old.

  8. My 2.5 yo loves to bake! I have taught her to crack and whisk eggs on her own.

  9. Hi! I was wondering if you have any tips for 4 or 5 year olds? My son refuses everything and doesn’t care enough about food to be bribed or reinforced, he would rather not eat. its so frustrating!

  10. I wish I could agree with parents who say, “they won’t starve themselves”. My little one once refused what was to eat for 4 meals, (dinner, breakfast, lunch, dinner). Then in the middle of the night she woke up vomiting. Apparently, my kid has an iron will.

  11. I would add to get frustrated, a picky eater will need time to try new things, and don’t go paste the one snack a day. And remember to remind your parents (their grandparents) to follow the rules as well. It took much longer for us because we found that his grandparents were giving him way too many snacks and chocolate milk. 😛

  12. lol, yes the challenges. . i have a rule that you have to at least TRY one bite of everything on the plate before you can be excused. anyway, i had made a bean pie- lol- a pie crust filled with pinto and black beans with mashed potatoes on top. i thought to myself that there is NO WAY my girls ( 2 and 4) were going to eat it. so when they came to the table i said i had made “FAIRIE PIE!!!” a secret recipe from the faires themselves. and do you know what happens when you EAT fairie pie? well, you grow wings and fly!! so with each bite my girls wings grew bigger and bigger until we were all flapping around the table FULL OF FAIRIE PIE:)

  13. Thank you for this! I have a preschooler and a 5-month-old. I hate to tell you but it gets so much more difficult as they get older. Surround yourself with like-minded parents and caregivers or else you will be the only one who doesn’t give her kid a hotdog or a bunch of crackers as a meal (or just a bag of fast food). I love your bullet about not letting your kid graze (goldfish are the devil) and including them in prep. As they get older keep reminding them that it is important to try new things and that they may well love something later. Also, hold to your standards. If my kid doesn’t eat much dinner, I do not fill them up on crackers. Your kid won’t starve, REALLY.

    • Good points! He gets graham crackers at church and they’re like crack cocaine. LOL! When we pick him up from the nursery, he reeks of those things. So, I can see how his environment and friends’ diets will make a big impact. I have friends who also don’t make special meals and if their kid doesn’t want to eat, they go to bed with no dinner. Let’s just say it doesn’t happen often 🙂

  14. This is so helpful! Just what I needed!

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