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We’ve talked toddler snack options here before. My list of Easy Toddler Snack Options You Can Say Yes To gives you a great list of snack options to keep stocked. But what if your toddler is a picky eater?
Honestly, I’ve never had this problem until recently. My kids have all pretty good about eating what we give them and at least trying new foods….until now.
The adventurous eater status recently changed when all of a sudden my toddler is a picky eater! She would once would eat whatever you gave her, but has suddenly decided that if it doesn’t look right, she’s not eating it! What is a mom to do to make sure she is getting enough to eat, and that what she is eating is healthy?
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Being Picky Is Normal
Toddlers Are Busy
Dr. Sears tells us that “there are developmental reasons why kids between one and three years of age peck and poke at their food. After a year of rapid growth, toddlers gain weight more slowly. So, of course, they need less food. The fact that these little ones are always on the go also affects their eating patterns. They don’t sit still for anything, even food. Snacking their way through the day is more compatible with these busy explorers’ lifestyle than sitting down to a full-fledged feast.”
Toddlers Eat Erratically
Don’t harbor blame if you can’t get your toddler to eat one day, while she ate like a champ the day before. It’s not you, really. Toddlers need between 1,000 to 1,300 calories a day, but they may not eat this amount every day. If you can keep them nutritionally balanced throughout the week (instead of worrying day to day), you are doing fine.
The unpredictable behavior you may witness is due in large part to a toddler’s budding independence, and the mixed feelings they harbor about that. It isn’t surprising if your child eats a heaping plateful of food one day and practically nothing the next, or adores broccoli on Tuesday and refuses it on Thursday.
Don’t take these behaviors personally, or make food an issue, a chore, or something to be rewarded or punished for eating/not eating. In doing so, you may inadvertently make tensions about food worse, even if you have the best of intentions.
Toddlers Know What They Want
In addition to the “my toddler is a picky eater” problem, toddlers can also be very specific about the way they want their food. If the peanut butter and jelly sandwich must be cut in squares and you only cut it in half, be prepared for a protest.
It’s not easy to reason with an opinionated two-year-old. Better to learn to make the sandwich the child’s way. Don’t interpret this as being stubborn. Toddlers have a mindset about the order of things in their world. Any alternative is unacceptable. The picky eater stage is usually one that passes or at least mellows over time.
What To Do When Your Toddler Is A Picky Eater
Offer A Snack Tray
Toddlers are grazers, and that is a good thing! Even if you cannot get them to eat a single thing during a meal, they may snack and nibble on healthy choices throughout the day, so why not let them?
This way you know they are getting nutritious food that you have chosen for them and Dr. Sears says that “grazing minimizes blood-sugar swings, lessening undesirable behavior due to hunger “.
Here are a few Easy Toddler Snack Options:
- Peeled and sliced apples
- Avocado chunks
- Banana slices
- Steamed broccoli florets
- Cooked and sliced carrots
- Cheese chunks
- Hard-boiled egg wedges
- Little O-shaped cereal
Keep the food in easy reach of your toddler so they can access it whenever hungry. I like using the EZPZ mats that suction to the table. It makes for an easy, and less-mess way to keep the snacks in reach.
If you leave finger foods out on a snack tray, many can stay out for an hour or two, but you’ll want to update your snacking tray throughout the day to make sure nothing has been sitting out too long.
Offer A Drink
My picky eater would rather drink her fill throughout the day than eat anything. This is okay too because I can make sure she is getting all her nutrition needs by making smoothies with ingredients that are part of a healthy diet – yogurt, peanut butter, fruit, etc.
In addition, I offer fruit and vegetable pouches for when I don’t have time to make a smoothie on my own, or when we are on the go. The Similac Go & Grow pouches offer three to four services of combined fruits and vegetables, and the Go & Grow Toddler drink has over 25 vitamins and minerals in each serving!
Go & Grow by Similac Pouches are the only toddler fruit and veggie puree pouches with OptiGRO, our brain- and an eye-nourishing blend of DHA, Lutein, and Vitamin E in forms similar to common foods.
Proper nutrition is the foundation for a healthy life for toddlers, and ideally, every toddler would happily gobble up nutrient-rich foods like broccoli and sweet potatoes. But in reality, it can take a while for certain foods to appeal to kids and Go & Grow can help supplement some of those gaps.
Keep Up Appearances
How much a child will eat often depends on how you slice and dice it. Cut sandwiches, pancakes, waffles, and pizza into various shapes and sizes. You can use cookie cutters or make funny faces out of fruit if you want to get extra fanciful.
Appearance is important when dealing with a picky eater and changing it up can have a big impact. For something new and different, why not use your child’s own toy plates for dishing out a snack? My son will often do this on his own by taking food off the plate I’ve served him with and placing all the food onto his plastic toy dishes.
You can also try the bite-sized approach by serving pint-size portions or buying smaller foods like mini bagels, mini quiches, chicken drummettes (deboned), and tiny muffins.
Less Is More
Did you know that a young child’s stomach is approximately the size of their fist? Try the less-is-more approach to serving up your picky eater.
Dr. Sears suggests to “dole out small portions at first and refill the plate when your child asks for more. This less-is-more meal plan is not only more successful with the picky eater, it also has the added benefit of stabilizing blood-sugar levels, which in turn minimizes mood swings. As most parents know, a hungry kid is generally not a happy kid.”
While focusing on what and how you feed your child is important, here are some other techniques that can help get your picky eater looking at (and hopefully eating) food in a different way.
- Give them their own table to sit at
- If their feet can touch the floor it will make for less squirming
- Plant a garden or a pot with a few vegetables
- Let your child help care for and harvest the vegetables
- Let them cook
- Let your picky eater help make the food when possible. They can use cookie cutters to cut sandwiches, scrub potatoes, wash vegetables, and more!
- Eat a variety of different, healthy food options in front of your toddler
Nutrient Rich Foods
If you want your toddler to join you for meals even if they aren’t likely to eat much, here are some nutrient-dense foods that most children (even the picky eater) are willing to eat — if at least a little nibble and peck.
- Peanut butter
- Brown rice and other grains
- Sweet potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Greek Yogurt
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