15 secrets to how I got my toddler to eat healthy and not be a picky eater

Toddler picky eater

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I feel like the toddler stage is hard enough, so dealing with a picky eater isn’t any mother’s fantasy dream. When mealtimes consist of begging your toddler to take a bite of dinner or whining and complaining, it is exhausting, to say the least. Keep reading to find out 15 secrets to how I got my toddler to eat healthy and not be a picky eater.

toddler picky eater

You probably are thinking I am crazy to say my toddler loves his fruits and veggies and isn’t that picky.

Well, truth be told, I am not lying.

My busy toddler has a pretty big appetite, eats healthy and enjoys most things without protesting.

Typical toddler eating habits

Most toddlers I hear of, love sugary treats, make mealtimes hard and usually end up eating one of the kids staple meals every day, like mac and cheese or PB and J’s because they refuse just about anything else.

Those meals aren’t bad, don’t get me wrong, but making sure your little one has a well-balanced diet is really crucial to their growth and development.

If you already have a picky toddler that falls in that mac and cheese bandwagon, don’t be alarmed and label yourself as a terrible mother, because you are not!

You can still turn your picky eater around; it will just take a bit of work.

If you have a tiny baby that hasn’t even entered the world of solid foods yet, you hit the jackpot! This is a great time to get prepared and start them off on the right foot.

15 tricks to eliminate you picky eater toddler

  1. Create good food habits from the beginning
  2. Set expectations for mealtime
  3. Try new foods
  4. Reward small successes
  5. Give some incentive
  6. Avoid snacks before mealtime
  7. Interchange disliked or new foods with something they like and count the bites
  8. Make mealtimes positive
  9. Educate them about nutrition
  10. Be a good example
  11. If they don’t eat dinner that’s ok!
  12. Be consistent
  13. involve them in the kitchen
  14. DON’T make them a separate meal
  15. Give yourself a break

These 15 tips will really help you along the way, no matter what stage of the journey you are in to get your toddler not to be a picky eater. Remember you are doing great, Momma!

1. Create a foundation of good habits- shape their taste palate young

When Thomas was starting to eat some solid foods, I quickly became more aware of what I wanted to be putting in his body. Babies rely solely on us, they can’t choose what they eat, so I became very conscious of what I was offering him. Right from the beginning.

Some of his very first foods were things like egg yolks, avocados and bananas.

If you are wanting to learn more about what are the best first baby foods, check out “7 Best First Baby Foods

Offering your baby smart food choices can really help shape their food palate at a young age and create a foundation of good food habits.

Even if your toddler is older, start implementing subtle changes, you can still reshape their food desires.

Stop offering some of the foods you want to eliminate and begin giving other choices. Be consistent and over time will begin to see improvements.

2. Set expectations for mealtimes

This is simple yet effective. Even from a young age, setting expectations for your child can help them in so many ways.

Teach them that mealtimes are a time to eat.

Whether they actually do or not is a different story, but create good routines and where possible eat together as a family.

Just like a car seat is part of your baby’s routine when driving somewhere set the expectation that mealtimes are for eating. Remember you make the rules, not your toddler.

Try new foods

Don’t be afraid to offer your toddler new foods. Give them a variety of different textures, flavors and types of food.

I would sometimes find myself falling into the trap of thinking my toddler wouldn’t like something, simply because it was not my food preference.

Also, don’t forget to try refused foods again.

Your baby’s taste buds are always evolving and developing so even if they spit it out one day, they may like it next week. I have experienced this scenario countless times with my toddler.

Sometimes new textures can throw them off but once they get passed that they will suddenly gobble it right up.

4. Reward small successes

Toddlers love to be rewarded, clapped for, and cheered on. Well at least mine does. If your toddler is struggling to eat certain foods, or fights over dinner time, look for those small successes and shower your little one with praise.

No matter how tiny, make sure you make a big deal when they tried a bite or gave some effort to eat.

5. Give some incentive and find what motivates them

You need to find the fine line between giving an incentive and begging on your knees to get your toddler to take a bite of their dinner. Finding out what motivates my toddler and giving a little incentive really works for him.

Toddler eating healthy

Kids are smart, WAY smarter than we think…even though my 20 month old doesn’t talk in full sentences and have a big vocabulary he understands a lot.

I can say to him something like,

“I know you want to play with your cars right now, but we have to eat first. Can you take some bites of your dinner, THEN we can play together” or “Your dinosaur on your shirt is hungry, he would like you to eat some dinner so your tummy us full.”

Instead of making it seem like a punishment, just simplify the situation. If your toddler wants to get down, he needs to eat some food first.

Once they start to understand the expectation and rewards for eating, they will eventually figure out that eating some dinner is better than whining and missing out on the reward.

6. Avoid lots of snacks before mealtimes

This step is huge! If your toddler has snacked all the way up until lunch or dinner time, getting them to eat is going to be a much harder task at hand.

Toddlers can be picky eaters, that is just life, but if they have been grazing on chips and cookies all day they are going to a lot less interested in eating actual food at mealtimes.

Snacks are fine to give just be wise when you give them.

I always like to limit excessive snacks between mealtimes and choose healthy snack options that aren’t full of sugar. Also, I like to allow some time in between any snacks and meals so they are hungry and excited to eat.

7. Interchange disliked or new foods with something they like and count the bites

Adding a food that you know they like to each meal can help.

I find that interchanging each bite with a “favorite” food can help them be more willing to eat the less “liked” food.

My toddler is really good when I count how many bites he needs to take. You can make it fun and correlate the number with something.

For instance, you could say “your stuffed animal has 2 arms, you need 2 bites of each food item” or “you have 5 toes on one foot, you need to take 5 more bites”

Depending on the age of your toddler might depict how many bites you can say.

8. Have fun, be creative, and make mealtimes positive

I know it is easier said than done, believe me!

I can find mealtimes stressful when my toddler makes things difficult, BUT do your best to just have fun, be creative and make the whole experience positive.

If you make eating food a negative experience for your toddler, they will be even less cooperative.

toddler not being a picky eater

I know you probably want to teach your toddler good table manners and not to play with their food, but it is ok to lighten up a little and make mealtimes fun and exciting.

As long as you stop the gravy making forts by the time they are a teenager you’re good 😉

Ok, just kidding, but for real, get creative! Turn spoons into pretend airplanes or trains, make the peas have voices and the carrots dance.

You don’t need to make this a ritual every time, but just stay positive and make mealtimes a time to eat together and enjoy one another’s company.

9. Educate them about nutrition

Like I said before, toddlers are smart. They may not have a complete understanding of everything, but you would be amazed at how much they do understand.

Toddlers learn from those who they are around, they will begin to emulate things that we do or tell them.

If you can educate them about nutrition, in simple ways, of course, they will grow up understanding why we need to eat certain foods, have a balanced diet and why eating sugary foods all day isn’t good for us.

Instead of labeling foods as “good” and “bad” explain why we want to choose certain foods over others.

Help them understand if they eat lots of candy or treats their tummies might feel sick and they won’t grow healthy and strong.

Treats are ok in moderation but teaching littles from a young age the importance of eating good is at the top of my list.

10. Be a good example

Setting an example for our children is huge.

Don’t expect your toddler to eat healthy and not be picky if you are doing the opposite.

Same goes for if Dad is snacking on chips and cookies before dinner, don’t expect your child to want to wait until dinner time to eat.

Set the example of how you want your toddler to eat. If you are a picky eater, chances are your toddler will be too.

Children watch us all the time, so it is crucial to be the perfect role model.

11. If they don’t eat their dinner, it is OKAY!

It is as simple as that. If they don’t eat their dinner, it is OKAY! Don’t worry, they won’t keel over and die in the night, they might just go to bed a little hungry, which is also ok.

Obviously, you need to be conscious about the age of your child when enforcing this but don’t lose too much sleep because they didn’t eat their dinner.

When my toddler was a little younger, more around the 12-month mark, I obviously was a lot more lenient than I would be if he was 3 years old.

It is also important to take into account other factors that might be stopping them from wanting to eat.

When Thomas was heavily teething, he would often lose some of his appetite, so I made sure I was conscious of that and offered something he really liked or maybe even something that was softer in texture to avoid adding discomfort in his mouth.

If there were no other factors in the mix, I would sometimes offer another “dinner option” that I knew he liked.

I made sure this didn’t become a usual occurrence because believe me, even at 12 months he would have caught on fast.

As he got a little older and is now 20 months old, if he doesn’t want to eat dinner, that is FINE.

I just tell him he doesn’t get anything else unless he eats some dinner.

I save it for him in case he changes his mind. He still has some milk before bed and gets that regardless. That is the system that works for his age at the moment.

When he stops drinking milk at night, I would still hold true to that rule.

12. Be consistent- They will eat when they are hungry

Being consistent is key to just about everything. Especially in this case.

Children thrive off of good routines and schedules. Consistency is the golden nugget to all of it.

If you aren’t consistent your toddler will soon realize they can get their way. Even if you feel like you are seeing any successes, don’t give up.

I can promise that it will all eventually pay off, but you HAVE to be consistent. If your toddler is really hungry, they will eventually eat.

13. Involve them in the kitchen

If your toddler is a little older, involving them in the kitchen can be fun and entertaining for them.

I know for you; it may not be what you want but teaching them simple skills like stirring the pancake batter or adding ingredients to the soup, can be a lot of fun.

Having your toddler be part of the meal prep experience can get them excited to eat the end result.

Obviously, you don’t (shouldn’t) do this every day, because we all need to keep our sanity and a toddler in the kitchen isn’t really help for us 😉 but maybe plan a day here and there to assign your 3 year old “master chef” of the kitchen!

Teach toddlers to eat healthy

14. Don’t give in and make them a separate meal

I know it is so hard not to give in sometimes because honestly there are times where that just seems like the best option, but really try to stay true.

Especially if your toddler is older, like 2 and up, don’t fall into the trap of cooking them something completely different because they turned their nose up at what everyone else is eating.

The more this happens the worse it will become.

Making a separate meal is like saying “you don’t need to eat what I made because I will just end up making whatever you like”

I can promise this will turn into a disaster.

You will find yourself always cooking those staple kid’s meals over and over again that usually don’t offer a nutritious all-round meal.

If you already find yourself in this position, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Just start making some changes today, it won’t be easy, BUT it will be worth it!

15. Give yourself a break

Remember you are doing your best, so don’t give yourself too much of a hard time. If you have a picky eater don’t label yourself as a bad parent.

You are doing great. Just implement a few ways to help improve the situation.

Kids go through phases, so if you felt like your toddler was eating well and is now going through a food strike, it happens to us all. Keep consistent and you’ll get through those rough patches.

Every single one of these tips has helped my toddler eat healthy and not be a picky eater.

Out of all of these, my biggest piece of advice is to create good healthy eating habits along with consistency and let everything else fall in between.

Do you have a toddler that is a picky eater? What are some ways that you have found helpful to get them to eat more healthy?

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My secret to not having a picky eater
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