Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters: How Parents Can Get Their Toddlers to Eat a Well-Balanced Diet
By Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD
Getting your toddler to eat a well-rounded, healthy diet can, at times, seem overwhelming, especially when children are old enough to express their preferencess on specific foods. As young children grow into toddlers and transition from breast milk or formula to eating solid foods, they often express which foods they love, and even more so, which foods disinterest them. While your toddler may opt for eating foods in small volumes and minimal variety, there are solutions to help handle a picky eater.
Remember that persistence is key. Toddlers may not like foods after the first try, but it can take a few times of eating a particular food for their taste buds to acclimate. Don’t give up if they don’t like something the first time. However, if you’re still having trouble getting your toddler to eat a variety of foods, try some of these tips below:
- Spend time as a family shopping and in the kitchen – Get them involoved in grocery shopping. Take them to the produce aisle and let them pick out a range of colorful fruits and vegetables, make it a game. Turning meal prep into an entertaining activity will encourage your child to get involved and learn more about the foods being prepared. If they see their parents and siblings enjoying the cooking process, they will be more inclined to experiment with foods.
- Cook with color – If you’re having trouble incorporating dark greens and other vegetables to your child’s plate initially, try offering nutrient-rich foods likesweet potatoes or avocados. Avocados are good sources of potassium and fiber and sweet potatoes are good sources of potassium, fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin E. Both also provide additional nutrients important for growth and development. Children typically enjoy these options and they are also easy for toddlers to eat.
- Disguise nutrient-rich foods into foods kids like –Incorporating steamed, pureedveggies like spinach or red peppers into pasta sauce is a quick and simple way to cover up the flavor without skimping on nutrients, such as vitamin C and vitamin A,– other important nutrients needed for healthy development.
- Choose easily chewable foods in toddler-size portions– If a food is easier to eat and provided in small portions, it’s less intimidating for toddlers. Avoid hard foods like nuts, raw vegetables or round items like grapes because they are choking hazards and can be dangerous. Cutting fruits in bite-size portions or gently baking, sauteeing, or steaming vegetables can help. Making a blenderized smoothie can also be an option.
- Enforce a healthy snacktime– Often, parents allow kids to have sugary drinks or highly-processed foods as a mid-day “treat.” This isn’t ideal for toddlers and more experts are recommending limiting those sources Instead lean towards a small amount of carbohydrate with protein and something with color.
- Incorporate soft, small breads like Naan with a protein paste like peanut or almond butter and a few raspberries
- Small slices of cheese with crackers and bite-sized slices of mango
- Sliced or mashed banana with low-sugar greek yogurt and sliced strawberries
- If you’re looking for a another quick, on-the-go option, try incorporating a toddler nutritional drink like Enfagrow NeuroPro. It’s made with real milk and has nutrients like DHA (Docosahexanoic Acid) which is an important omega-3 fatty acid and a building block of the brain, as well as vitamin D and iron.
- Celebrate healthy choices– We all love encouragement, and positive affirmation on the smallest successes will make a huge difference. If you’re feeling discouraged as a parent with a picky eater, know that children reach milestones at various times and they will eventually learn to broaden their diet with repeated opportunities. If you have any concerns, don’t hesitate tocheck with your health care provider or a registered dietitian.
Christina J. Valentine, MD, MS, RD, FAAPis a Physician- Scientist focused on maternal / infant diet strategies to attenuate inflammation and improve outcomes. Dr. Valentine is an active neonatologist in Columbus, Ohio and is an Associate Visiting Professor at the University of Cincinnati (UC), where she is the Principal Investigator evaluating maternal docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in early pregnancy to reduce early preterm birth. She is also currently the Medical Director for RB North America where she is involved with Research and Development.