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Paediatrician shares how to promote healthy eating in picky toddlers

picky toddler

Your baby would eat anything is now a picky toddler. What happened? Find out how to promote healthy food choices and conquer fussy eating with tips from a paediatrician who specializes in picky eating.

We are at a family gathering at the end of the summer. The patio is teaming with uncles, aunts, family friends, and grandparents. My brothers call out to my children to join them on the back lawn. They have a somewhat inflated soccer ball, a baseball tee and a boatload of creativity. My kids mirror their uncle’s enthusiasm as they play an adapted version of t-ball.

Everything is connected. Everyone is happy.

Despite this, I can’t say I’m entirely relaxed. You see, family dinners are triggers for my fussy eaters. Even when an aunt or grandparent have been kind enough to make accommodations for my children, often the pasta “looks funny” or the carrots aren’t right.

Of course, my picky eaters make these declarations when the entire family is gathered. And, therefore, everyone hears their rude remarks.

Even though my family is kind and understanding, I find this entire situation to be frustrating. Today, paediatrician, Dr Orlena shares her insights for picky toddlers – but these strategies apply well for all fussy eaters.

My baby used to eat everything. Now, I have a picky toddler. What happened?

Well, quite a lot actually!

Between the ages of one and two years of age, most children will enter into a phase of picky eating.

This is, in part, due to their newfound autonomy.

(Read more about this in the article 10+ Tips for Mitigating Difficult Toddler Behaviour)

As infants move into toddlerhood, not only is she now walking but she also wants to do everything to show that she is her own person. Being discerning about what she likes and doesn’t like is one of the easiest ways to show she can be independent. Controlling what goes into her mouth is one major way she can show just how strong-willed she is.

Not only that but being a picky toddler serves an evolutionary function.

Babies can afford to eat anything put in front of them as they likely have an adult holding them or within arms reach. However, toddlers who can walk out of plain sight and are willing to eat anything could pop poisonous berries into their mouth.

In addition to all of this, tastes change.

Don’t stress if a favourite food suddenly becomes something not worth eating. It is a strange thing but around this time, kids preference often change. My oldest son used to eat bananas every day for breakfast. He’d reach out and grab them in his tubby hands. One day, out of nowhere, he stopped liking them. Nothing specific happened. Sometimes when children have a “disgust reaction” it can put them off food for life. He’s 11 now and can smell bananas from a mile away. Although he’s learnt to like lots of new foods, I don’t hold out any hope for bananas.

Anxiety can also play a large role in picky toddlers.

As parents, we often don’t notice anxiety. All children like to feel in control, but some are super sensitive. They get upset and emotional if things aren’t the way they expect. This might not even be food. The “wrong” bowl or cutlery triggered many a meltdown for my children. Dealing with big emotions isn’t easy. 

According to feeding specialist and occupational therapist, Alisha Grogan, the best approach in these instances, and with all picky eating is not to use any form of pressure. This means no bribing, negotiating or suggesting your children try just one bite.

…when some kids (often picky eaters) feel pressured to eat they often feel they need to protect themselves further and close themselves off from being open to new or different foods. For a variety of reasons, they have already decided that eating some foods is not for them, the pressure factor for parents and other well-meaning adults builds their brick wall up further and further. This leads them to be intimidated or they may feel they are going to react the wrong way when they actually do want to try something. It creates an environment that closes off the opportunity for exploring new foods, the opposite of what most parents want.

Does this mean I should let my picky toddler eat whatever he wants?

Not exactly!

Parents are in control of two crucial elements of what their toddlers (or kids for that matter) eat:

  1. what is offered to a child to eat.
  2. when the child eats.

From there, the child can choose what to eat. That said, you don’t have to offer them unlimited food. If you have a “carb junkie” you can off them a reasonable amount of carbs and free reign of healthier foods like fruit and vegetables.

My Top Tips for Helping Your Toddler Eat Healthy Food

1. Relax! Look at the bigger picture. Don’t get into a battle about food.
2. Offer healthy food throughout the day. If you always have healthy foods, you won’t worry about the broccoli at dinner time.
3. Lots of fruit and veggies. Offer them at every eating time.
4. Beware foods in packets. Even foods that are marketed as “healthy” often aren’t as healthy as you’d like.
5. Enjoy it! The “little years” will whizz by. Savour every moment, even the “not so great ones.”
6. Model Healthy Eating. The best way to teach your kids about healthy eating is to model it yourself.
7. Don’t worry about what other people think. Big family parties are likely to put more stress on you. Don’t worry about other people judging your kids. Do what you think is right for your kids.

For more from Dr. Orlena, check out Everything you need to know about a toddler who won’t eat


For more great reading on parenting toddlers, check out:

Front-loading, Redirection & Connection: 3 powerful strategies for parenting a strong-willed toddler

10+ Strategies for Mitigating Difficult Toddler Behaviour

How to stop toddler hitting without the use of punishment

When should a toddler stop napping – an expert weighs in

How to conquer a potty training regression


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