feeding a picky toddler
Nutrition, Picky Eaters, Tips / How-Tos, Toddlers

4 Practical Tips for Feeding a Picky Toddler New Foods

It’s completely normal for toddlers to be fussy about eating—but when Sally refuses anything green and Bobby won’t touch an egg, it can drive you nuts (especially when they won’t eat nuts either). Feeding a picky toddler is a challenge, but there are strategies you can use to make mealtime easier! Try our four practical methods when it’s time to overcome those fussy toddler eating habits.

1. Introduce one new food at a time.

Most toddlers are picky in one way or another, so they’ll all need some help being introduced to new foods. Don’t worry about finding the so-called “right” or “perfect” toddler foods for picky eaters; instead, select a few nutritious foods and then introduce them one at a time.

How to do it:

  • Offer a new side dish of peas or broccoli along with go-to staples like mac and cheese.
  • Replace white potatoes with more nutrient-packed sweet potatoes.
  • Combine a Nurture Life main dish, such as Teriyaki Salmon or Chicken Meatballs, with a familiar side.
  • Add a new fresh-cut vegetable or fruit to accompany their favorite PB&J.

Easing your child into a new food can help with acceptance…but it will still take time! Research shows that it can take 6-15 tries for your child to accept a new food. Be patient, and don’t expect your toddler to say “yes” the first, second or even fifth time you offer.

2. Try one day on, one day off.

Another strategy for encouraging your toddler to eat is to set a schedule for new foods: one day on, one day off. For example, maybe Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday are days on which you serve only familiar foods—nothing new at all. Then on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, you add one new veggie, protein or whole grain each day.

Setting a fixed schedule can prevent your child from getting overwhelmed with new tastes and can also help with your own meal planning.

3. Blend the new with the old.

If your toddler flat-out refuses to eat an obviously new side of greens, try blending them into their already-familiar toddler foods! As always, it’s best to approach the new ingredients gradually, even when they’re blended in.

How to do it:

  • Puree carrots, spinach or other kid-friendly vegetables into pasta or casserole sauces.
  • Transition away from refined bread or pasta by mixing them 50-50 with their whole-grain alternatives.
  • Slowly mix snacks with healthy junk food alternatives like white cheddar popcorn or whole-wheat crackers.
  • Blend garbanzos, lentils or black beans as a partial substitute for ground meat.

Even if you’re feeding a picky toddler on a tight schedule, you can still incorporate this idea with Nurture Life’s freshly made toddler meals. For instance, our wholesome mac and cheese smoothly blends cauliflower in the sauce for undetectable added nutrients.

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4. Give your toddler choices.

According to researchers from Drexel and Rutgers, children are more likely to accept new or disliked foods when they’re offered in a supportive environment. That means that coercion should never be a part of the journey toward healthful toddler eating habits.

Instead, take advantage of your toddler’s newfound desire for independence by allowing him or her to have some say over what’s being served. Let your child choose one dish with the important caveat that you get to choose one too. That way, you’re giving your little one some choice while still ensuring a balanced diet and modeling your own healthy eating habits.

Healthy Toddler Eating Habits: Why Picky Eating Needs to be Addressed

As toddlers begin to explore new foods and assert their independence, it’s completely normal to see picky eating habits develop. In fact, most toddlers will go through a picky eating phase at some point. When limited food preferences become sustained, however, it may be time to search for some toddler picky eating solutions.

Here’s how long-term picky eating may negatively affect your child:

  • Picky eaters consume fewer vegetables and protein sources than non-picky eaters, giving them less of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients necessary for growth.
  • Constantly fighting over toddler foods can create antagonism at mealtime, which can translate into negative associations with eating and the development of other poor eating habits.
  • Picky eating gets worse over time. The best time to address fussy toddler eating habits is now—before they can continue into adolescence or even adulthood.

For the sake of your child’s development and your own mealtime sanity, learning how to navigate picky eating is key. Just remember—it takes time to build healthful and varied toddler eating habits, so don’t get discouraged when it feels like nothing is happening. Keep building familiarity by offering nutritious toddler foods in a positive, pressure-free manner, and that familiarity will eventually become acceptance (and even enjoyment!).

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Lara Field at Nurture Life

Lara Field

Lara has been working with Nurture Life since its inception, collaborating with the culinary team on the creation of all menus and recipes to ensure they are nutritionally appropriate and correctly proportioned for every age and stage of a child’s development and providing pediatric nutrition expertise to Nurture Life customers. Lara is the owner/founder of FEED—Forming Early Eating Decisions, a nutrition consulting practice specializing in pediatric nutrition and digestive diseases. Lara has over a decade of experience in clinical practice at two of the top ranked pediatric hospitals in the country, Lurie Children’s Hospital and University of Chicago Medical Center. Lara received her B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and M.S. and dietetic internship from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. Lara truly enjoys the process of eating (and feeding!), from procuring the ingredients at various grocery stores and farmers markets, to organizing her pantry/refrigerator at home to make it easy to select healthy options, to preparing balanced meals with her children. Whether it be a decadent treat to a hearty, home-cooked meal, there is no greater satisfaction for Lara than enjoying food with her family.