Tag Archives: toddler eating

Tips for picky eaters

7 Mar

When Hannah was little, she used to eat any puree I put on her little spoon.  She loved any and all food. I can’t pinpoint when, or how it happened, but now she is fussy.  Really fussy.  It drives me nuts.  She’s been this way for at least two years now, and instead of gradually getting better, it just gets worse.  I fear that she isn’t getting enough vitamins, minerals, and protein to sustain her and keep her healthy.  I know it’s not just Hannah though, eating is a huge problem.  According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, 50% of toddlers aged 2-4 are picky eaters (up from 19% of under twos), which accounts for 95% of all picky eaters.

Lucky for me (and probably you too), I received some picky eater tips, and got some of my own questions answered by Kate Samela, Paediatric nutritionist, mom of two, and author of Give Peas a Chance: The Foolproof Guide to Feeding Your Picky Toddler, which was name a “mom must read” by Parents.com.


One of Kate’s tips is using kids’ favorite textures (not tastes!) to expand their eating habits. The goal is to try and identify foods that are similar in texture and consistency to foods that he already accepts and that have the same “mouth feel”.  The familiar and accepted texture can be a bridge to a new flavor or food acceptance.

If they like …

Crunchy/Salty: Instead of Cheerios or Goldfish, try Terra Stix or mini rice cakes

Sweet and Squishy: Instead of pancakes, try freeze-dried fruit cubes or sweet breads like pumpkin or zucchini

Smooth and Slippery: Instead of string cheese, try a yogurt smoothie or pudding

Soft/Mushy: Instead of mac and cheese, try sweet potato pancakes or oven-baked eggplant parmesan

  • Offer the food with a safety food and as part of a meal. A safety food is one food that you are certain your toddler will accept – something familiar and likeable. For example, if you are trying to expose your toddler to meat, pair it with his favorite fruit or vegetable and a starch (i.e. watermelon and French fries).
  • Allow your toddler to touch and play with that food, even if it means putting it in his mouth and then spitting it out. Playing with food is something that toddlers do and they engage in this activity because it is a key part of their development.
  • Serve the same food to all at the table, so your toddler will see other people eating what he is being served.
  • Offer the food in small quantities so that he does not get discouraged or overwhelmed. “Portion Distortion” begins in the toddler stage: Bags of chips, cookies, and snack crackers are bigger than ever. Often, parents feel like their toddler is eating nothing because they have piled on grown-up portion sizes, or even quantities of food that an older sibling would eat.
  • If after two minutes your toddler says the dreaded “I’m done,” ignore him and attempt to engage him to talk about something he did that day. Do not try and overzealously attempt to keep him at the table, or set “rules” for what else he has to eat before he gets down. There is a biological reason for a decrease in food intake between the ages of one to three, and that is a slower rate of growth. Appetite mimics rate of growth; therefore, appetite “slows down.”
  • Consider what your toddler eats over the course of a week, rather than from meal to meal. You can even pick several days if a week seems just too long. The idea that his decrease in appetite is developmentally appropriate should give you some reassurance for those days that his eating doesn’t seem to add up to nutrition perfection.  In a day, it can be normal for a toddler to eat one “good” meal.

I asked some specific questions to Kate, about things I struggle with in regards to Hannah.  Here is what she said:

Q:My daughter is 3.5, and very picky. Instead of starting to get less picky, she keeps getting pickier. She will often refuse to eat things she loved not so long ago, and say “I don’t like that anymore.” She doesn’t just not like it for a week or so. When she says that, that’s it, she won’t eat it again no matter how many times I put it on her plate. Is this normal, and what can I do about it?

KS: As frustrating as this can be, it happens with some kids. The first thing you have to do is think about how you (or anyone eating with her) are responding to her declaration of “I don’t like it”. If you feel the scenario escalates into a battle of wills more often than not (i.e. You respond: “What do you mean you don’t like this, you just ate it yesterday!”), then there are some changes to be made. Simply ignore her declaration and act like you don’t care either way. Try saying, “Well, I am sure you can find something on the table you like.”

If however, these food refusals are accompanied by weight loss, persistent stomach aches, changes in bowel habits, or constant fatigue, you need to speak with your pediatrician as her decline in food intake could signal something else.

2. Question from a reader: My 18 month old daughter eats pretty balanced meals, but sometimes she refuses to eat anything for a few days, she will drink milk though. Her doctor warned me that if she drinks more than 12oz a day she could get very ill and possibly die. My initial reaction was fear, but I’m feeling a little mislead, any input? thank you!

KS: The big concern with excessive milk intake in toddlers who have very little table food in their diets relates to iron deficiency anemia. Milk is a poor source of iron, and foods help keep iron stores within normal limits. The severity of the anemia will depend upon how long the scenario has been going on. Meaning, when a child doesn’t eat anything, and drinks more than 16 ounces of milk per day week after week, it can become a serious problem. Usually, it occurs when the child is drinking large quantities of milk (like more than 24 ounces).

Be sure that you are still going through the routine of offering regularly scheduled meals and snacks, and be sure you (or the caregiver) are sitting and eating with her. Use these days as a chance to offer something new and fun – sometimes kids just get bored of the same old stuff – especially at 18 months.

Also, pay attention to her stooling pattern during these 3 day food refusals – if she is constipated, she might not feel like eating. Give 2-4 ounces of pear juice per day to help her move things along.

And lastly, give her a daily MVI with Fe, such as a Flintstones Complete, to be on the safe side


3. I know you say I shouldn’t overzealously try to keep my daughter at the table and make her eat x and y before she gets down, but is it ok to make her sit at the table until dinner time is finished if she doesn’t actually have to eat anything? Usually I let her get down when she’s done if she eats all of her food, but if she doesn’t, she has to stay at the table until dinner is finished (and I emphasize the fact that she doesn’t have to eat anything). She always wants to get down though.

KS: It sounds like there are mixed messages being passed along. Your daughter would benefit from a consistent response to her request to get down from the table. Meaning, whether or not she gets down should not depend upon what she ate or didn’t eat. If your goals are to have her sit for longer with the family to enjoy the time together, then it’s fair to set the rule that no one can get up before everyone is finished. And I agree that she does not have to eat anything while she is sitting. One suggestion: quietly be mindful of how long she has been sitting, but don’t feel the need to set a timer. She should not know you are keeping track of time, otherwise she will dread coming back time and time again.

4. When I put something that Hannah “doesn’t like” (I use the term loosely because it’s not based on taste, just what she says she doesn’t like without trying it), she won’t even eat the things she does like that are in a different section of the segmented plate. Often she will even turn around in her chair because she “doesn’t want to see it.” How can I get her to try things when she won’t even touch or look at them?

KS: This is a tough one. First, I would want to know if you remove the offending food on a regular basis. If you have fallen into that habit to keep peace at mealtime (full disclosure, I have done it too!), she might be persistent with this response based on her past experiences. If you have removed it once, you will remove it again! (Note from Sheri added after questions were answered: I do not take the offending food away.)

I would suggest putting what you made for dinner on serving dishes instead, and allow her to try and serve herself instead. Most 5 year olds can do this with a tiny amount of guidance, but if she is younger, than she might need some hands on help. Kids LOVE the autonomy of putting their own food their plates, and might even be motivated after a few weeks of doing it, to put something new on the plate too. Otherwise, you can try today the website Today I ate a Rainbow, and see if the charts and rewards help – it’s a great site.

5. I recently got a rewards chart for Hannah. If she tries her dinner, she gets a sticker. If she gets stickers for a week, she gets a predetermined (by a discussion between Hannah and me) prize. She doesn’t even have to eat the food. All I want is for her to put one little bit in her mouth, just so she can taste the flavour and hopefully start to get used to putting different things in her mouth, and even coming to like the different tastes. Do you think a rewards chart is a good idea for picky eaters?

KS: I think it depends on how it is presented, and of course the personality of the child. If what she is eating (or what she is not) is a major focus of her day, every day, every meal, then I think the chart is overkill. Additionally, she might just feel like she is constantly disappointing you by not taking just a bite.  You want her to feel like she can choose to try a new food because she wants to. You can motivate her by taking some focus away from food, and take the pressure off meal time a bit and just enjoy each other’s company.


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“Oh, it’s Jesus!”

16 Jun

Last night, Hannah was eating dinner.  She wanted some lunch meat ham.  Whenever she wants lunch meat ham, I always give it to her.  It’s not like she eats any other sort of meat (yeah, yeah, lunch meat ham is hardly meat, but it’s a start).

She picks up the ham, tears a little piece off and then puts it in her mouth.  This happens a few times, and then she held up a piece of ham and got all excited:

She was really excited, like she actually was holding Jesus in her grubby little fingers.  But then took a big bite.

She got really upset.  Her little face went all red and tears filled her eyes.

“It’s ok sweetie, Jesus is still here, it’s only the Jesus shaped ham that’s gone.”  I told her.

She smiled.  And ate Jesus’ head.

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The sneaky meat

24 Jan

I’m sure you’re all aware that Hannah refuses to eat anything that remotely resembles meat.  Or fish.  Or eggs.  Anything protein really.  I’ve tried different tactics, some of which have worked for a little bit, some that have failed miserably.

Yesterday, I had a brainwave (what, someone with baby brain can have brainwaves?).  Hannah LOVES those little kids yogurts that come in squeezey packs.  But what if I gave her a squeezey pack that contained not yogurt, but meat.  Of course there are other things in there too, like vegetables, but what ever, there’s meat in there!  Usually when I slave over the stove, making her healthy wonderful home made food, she takes one look at it, turns her nose up and says “Done!”  Or, to add more insult to injury, she looks at it, refuses to sit in her chair, flaps her arms and legs, makes like a wiggle worm, and starts yelling “NO!!” as if I’m about to put her in a pool full of sharks.

I couldn't find a photo of the meat ones, but this is a squeezey pack. Photo courtesy of Rafferty's Garden

So what if she can’t see the meaty goop she is about to ingest?  Sure those wonderful, foul smelling squeezey packs of baby food are for babies from 6 months old (due to being pureed…), and not really for toddlers, but who cares, they contain MEAT!  She could actually get some protein into her diet.

As I arrived in the baby aisle at Coles, I found that the meaty squeezey packs were on sale.  Score!  I grabbed 4 different packs (beef and something, chicken and apricot, chicken and something else, and tuna and something.  Seriously, you can’t expect me to remember all of them, I have baby brain).  Hannah, cheeky monkey that she is, saw me put her beloved squeezey packs in the trolley (cart) and yelled “yogurt, yogurt!”

Ok, what the heck, I gave her one then and there.  She seemed to want it more than anything else in the entire world at that moment in time, so why not go for it?  When I handed her the opened squeezey pack of wonder, she started making her over-excited giggle noise that pretty much sounds like a nanny goat and is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my entire life.

She went at that squeezey pack with vigor, squeezing and sucking its guts out.  She didn’t take a sip and then pull that this-is-the-most-disgusting-thing-i’ve-ever-had face and say done, or no.  Quite the contrary, she had some, made the nanny goat noise, then had some more.  She ate nearly the entire pack.  She probably would have eaten all of it if she hadn’t had breakfast (with seconds, she loves breakfast.  This morning, she had Special K for breakfast) only 2 hours earlier.

When we got home and she found the other squeezey packs of wonder in the shopping bags, she wanted more.  Hopefully this trend will continue, and she will eat whatever I give her out of a squeezey pack.  In a week or so, when she is used to the taste of the meat, I will try putting the contents of a squeezey pack on some pasta, or some rice.  If she eats that, I will put some little chunks of meat on it too.  If she eats that, I will make everything from scratch again, in hope that she will be used to the taste, smell, texture, and whatnot of the meat, and actually devour it happily.

This is the plan.  Wish me luck.

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