What to do when your toddler won't eat anything but snacks

They want Cheerios, Goldfish and cheese. Here's how to not turn every meal into a literal food fight.

Photo: istock

Man cannot live on bread alone…but toddlers are ready and willing to test that theory. Mine certainly is, though she’d also like to add Cheerios, Goldfish and cheese to the mix.

The really frustrating part is that I tried to do everything right, and it seemed to be working. I introduced her to a wide variety of foods from the start, and from broccoli to beans, spinach to salmon, eggs to eggplant, she gobbled it up.

Then she turned two.

Suddenly, she started rejecting her healthy favourites and demanding snacks as entrees. Every meal became a literal food fight, and I wanted to scream.

If you’ve been engaging in a similarly frustrating battle of wills, says Toronto-based dietitian Cara Rosenbloom, don’t panic. Loving a food one day and hating it the next is a normal part of a toddler’s development. “Sometimes a food is saltier, crunchier or more bitter than usual, and they will react to the difference in flavour or texture,” she explains. “And sometimes, they are just looking to assert some control and drive you bonkers.”

A young girl pouts at a plate of food on the table in front of her 5 science-backed ways to get your picky eater to try new foodsThe key is to respect a toddler’s burgeoning independence while staying the course. We wouldn’t think twice about setting rules for screen time and bedtime, and we should apply the same principles to mealtime. Otherwise, we’re teetering on the brink of a very slippery slope.

“Remember your role in the feeding relationship,” says Rosenbloom. “You should not allow your child to decide when to eat (all day!), where to eat (in front of the TV!) and what to eat (chocolate and gummi bears!). Those are your jobs. They can decide which foods to eat from what you offer them. Goldfish or Cheerios can be part of the deal…just not for every meal and snack.”

You can also try the following four tactics to get your picky eater to pick the foods you want:

Ask questions 

If a food had been a hit previously and has now landed on the no-way, no-how list, Rosenbloom suggests asking, “What can I do to make this better for you?” She says that kids will often have a simple and surprising answer such as wanting to add ketchup or have it with a side of cereal. Easy-peasy.

Offer choices—but limited, parent-approved ones

Toddlers want it all, but they can get lost in a sea of options. If you present just two or three choices, things will seem more manageable to them and you might actually get your way with at least one of the offered foods.

Let them help you shop, prepare and cook

Get them involved and invested, and there’s a higher likelihood that they’ll try what they’ve helped you to make…maybe…eventually…someday. But keep at it if it doesn’t work right away. You might hit on something or get them at a weak moment.

Sneak it in

Butternut squash blends in with macaroni and cheese. Zucchini bread actually has a vegetable in it. Yogourt smoothies can be puréed with all sorts of healthy stuff and no one will be the wiser.

So that’s what you should do. As for what you shouldn’t do, here’s the biggie: Don’t get into a fight with your toddler. It isn’t going to end well. (Trust me.) Plus, a recent study at the University of Michigan found that picky eating doesn’t generally stunt a child’s growth or cause nutrient deficiencies. What it can do, however, is make everything stressful and potentially damage the relationship you’ve built with your child.

If you’re concerned about your child’s growth, absolutely bring it up with your paediatrician, but know that everything’s probably going to be just fine. In the meantime, embrace the good foods that they do eat (admit it, there are a few) and keep offering a variety of good choices.

“Just like we teach our kids to read and to ride a bike, we need to teach our kids how to eat well—and like any skill, it takes patience and practice,” says Rosenbloom. “If you do your job, your child will learn how to eat the amount they need for their growing body, and they will learn to eat the foods you eat.”

And it may not feel like it right now, but someday this picky phase will be a distant memory—and your child will likely be eating you out of house, home and bank account in a few short years.

Read more:
Do snacks ‘made with real veggies’ count as vegetables?
12 packaged snacks you can feel less guilty about

No Comments