You don't have to be perfect to be the perfect parent!

Picky Toddler Eating

Our daughter, Kaitlyn, the picture of  toddler pickiness!

Why is it that we parents worry so much about how much our child is eating?  I can remember thinking that how well Kaitlyn ate that day, determined how well I had parented.  Not true!  Children under the age of one usually nurse or formula feed well, and are eager for the introduction of solid foods.  But seemingly over night, our toddlers start to have an opinion about what we feed them!  I can remember being very frustrated because I was providing her with this wonderfully healthy meal, and often all she wanted was bananas!  To make it more confusing, the next day she may have thrown all those bananas off her tray!  My darling daughter was a typical toddler, and with toddlers, meals are often a challenge.  Why?

  1. Toddlers have slowed down in growth.
  • The first year of life a child grows very quickly, between birth and a year most children triple their birth weight!  A toddler  grows much more slowly and seems less hungry.

     2.   Eating interrupts a toddler’s activity.

  • Toddlers are busy…any parent can tell you that.  Sitting for any length of time just isn’t on the toddler’s agenda!

     3.  You can’t force a toddler to eat.

  • A parent’s job is to present a toddler with a wide taste pallet of healthy foods every day.  It is up to the child to eat them!  The more you force, the more most toddlers turn up their noses.  A healthy child offered healthy food will NOT starve themself!  A parent’s job is to provide a healthy diet a toddler’s job is to decide!

      4.  Toddlers usually eat one good meal a day.

  • Often toddlers will eat a good breakfast, an OK lunch and pick at dinner. Toddlers only need about 40 calories an inch. (Now don’t get that calculator out for your child!)  Most will only need about 1000 to 1300 calories a day.  By dinner, many toddlers have eaten their required calories for the day!

      5.  Toddlers like to binge on one food.

  • Food jags are common in toddlers.  One day you can’t fill them up on green beans, and then two days later it is bananas.    Some days a toddler may eat only fruit, the next day they may fill up on protein.  What a toddler eats over a week is a better picture of their diet intake.

So what is a parent to do….

  • Relax!
  •  Offer food frequently!  Toddlers need 3 meals and at least 2 snacks offered each day.  Toddlers behave better when they are eating frequently.  Their tummies are small and temper tantrums increase when blood sugars are low.  Try planning snacks from at least 2 food groups 2 to 3 times a day.
  • Dip it!  Toddlers like to dip everything.  It is fun, and it is messy…two essentials for toddler eating!  Humus, yogurt, cottage cheese, guacamole, melted cheese, salsa, peanut butter and even ranch dressing are some essential dips for toddlers.
  • Hide it!  Hide the broccoli under cheese sauce, shred the veggies and mix them in humus or cream cheese and spread on a tortilla and cut into pin wheels, puree veggies and add them to pasta sauce, lasagna, meatloaf.  Make “orange ” pancakes with sweet potato puree or carrot puree and a dash of cinnamon.  Get sneaky!   When you hide vegetables, make sure you include some on your child’s plate so they learn what a balanced diet looks like.
  • Be creative!  Kids like fun.  Make faces on sandwiches, use cookie cutters and cut shapes in pancakes and bread, make shish-ka-bobs with fruit and pretzel sticks, make party bananas with sprinkles, serve fruit and yogurt in an ice cream cone, try smoothies, try serving foods in bento boxes
  • Remember the toddler serving size!  A serving size is a tablespoon per year.  One serving of vegetables for a 2-year-old is two tablespoons!  Many times we are trying to serve our toddlers adult size portions!  The American Academy of Pediatrics has a great “sample” daily meal plan.  Take a look!
  •  Don’t let your toddler “drink” his calories.  A toddler should only have  16 ounces to a maximum of 24 ounces of milk a day.  That is much less than the 28 to 32 ounces most were drinking before becoming toddlers!  If your child drinks too much cow’s milk, he will not eat solid food calories!  Too much milk provides too little iron and other needed nutrients!  Juice should be limited to only 4 to 6 ounces a day after age 1, better to have the whole fruit than just the juice!
  • Let your child “shop” for food.  Give your child a few dollars and let them “shop” in the produce section.  Your child will be more likely to eat the food he or she “buys”!  You might learn to cook and eat a new fruit or vegetable too….you never know what your child may pick out!  (this is how I learned to fix spaghetti squash!)
  • Let your child “help” prepare food.  A child who watches a parent make dinner and “helps” will often be more likely to eat!  Let your child have a few choices, control is important for toddlers.
  • Let your child be messy.  Toddlers explore food with their mouths, taste buds, and hands.  They smash food, throw food, spread food, “paint” with food and generally need a bath after most meals.  You must allow your toddler to feed himself.  You must introduce spoons and forks, and be patient with the fact that it takes time and messes to learn how to use them!
  • Don’t battle…try a “No thank you bite”or “kiss me bite”.  Toddlers have opinions, and sometimes they are very strong!  The more battle there is in a meal, the more likely you will lose!  Offer healthy foods and a variety of foods.  If your toddler refuses to try something, introduce a “no thank you bite”.  One bite and then he can refuse more.  You might even ask your child to “kiss” the food, not even take a bite.  This may provide just a small enough taste to convince your child to take a bite!  Remember, it takes 15 to 20 introductions to a food before your child will develop a definite like or dislike!

Remember, a parent’s job is to PROVIDE healthy meals and snacks….a toddler’s job is to DECIDE what he or she will eat that day. If left alone, toddlers will usually balance their own diet if we just provide good choices.  Relax….

Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.


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  1. Christy

    I needed this today Cindy! Finn has decided he only wants my food…even if it’s the same thing he is eating:)


    • Things always look better on someone else’s plate! 🙂 Do you remember this Kaitlyn look? Ha


  2. Mom

    been there done that…..Cindy I remember you just like Kaitlyn!! Love this…..wish I had this when I was raising all you kids!!! How fun…..


  3. Danielle

    We have had nothing but fussy here for the past week…I am going to try the multiple snack approach and see how it goes. I have found in the past that if I provide him with a mid-morning snack he doesn’t eat as well at lunch, but I’m going to change it up and see how today goes…fingers crossed!


    • Toddlers do become very fussy when hungry…remember a toddler snack resembles a small meal. So, if he eats less at lunch it doesn’t really matter. At least 2 food groups in that snack and it looks like a mini meal! Good luck!


  4. This is sooo true! One day our toddler eats and eats. Other days he wants nothing to do with food and just wants to run around. I think he eats best at daycare becuase they all sit down together and eat and he’s not distracted with anything. That’s probably his big meal of the day.


    • if our schedules would allow it, we would. But because of our shifted shedules, our son eats before hubs gets home. Since we both work, and commute, if we wasted time cooking dinner and eating it at home together, it wouldn’t leave any time to spend together, or for hubs and i to have time to hit the gym. As our son gets older and doesn’t sleep 12 hours a night, that’ll give us more time in the day to eat together.


  5. Mymummytaughtmethat

    Thanks for this blog, reminded me to take a breath rather than ranting at the 5millionth ‘I don’t like my dinner’


  6. Great Blog post! xx


  7. Thanks for the link! You are right…no pressure! Eating will become a control issue with a toddler! Remember too….children will adjust themselves on the growth curve, she may level out and remain in the 30th percentile. After age 2 genetics plays a big part in where they will be on the curve! As long as a child levels out and then starts to have growth in that percentile it is fine.



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