Toddler Tastebuds: How To Handle Your Picky Eater
“Dr. Karp, I swear he lives on air. He eats one cracker and that’s it for the day!”
– Shana, mom of two-year-old Danny
If you’ve got toddlers, then feeding, feeding, feeding has been your big job for a long, long time. We all feel like good parents when our kids clean their plates.
Yet many toddlers tenaciously refuse any food other than crackers, macaroni and cheese, and buttered bread. Don’t take this fussiness personally; it’s just a normal part of the rigidity so common to the toddler years. Take some time to read a nutrition book or check with your doctor to learn the amount of nutrients your child really needs, and track his food intake over a week or two to see if he is getting enough. Most kids require less than we think, and their refusal usually has nothing to do with our cooking. Here are four reasons toddlers become “food refuseniks”:
Not hungry. Shortly after the first birthday a toddler’s weight gain suddenly slows down. Andy by 18 to 24 months, many toddlers become “grazing animals,” preferring many snacks a day to regular meals.
Mealtime is playtime. To your toddler, a meal is as much play, or a science experiment, as it is a time to eat.
Green is yucky. It’s smart to like red and avoid green. Red signals what’s ripe, sweet, and safe to eat. Green foods are often bitter or unripe. (Even with lollipops – toddlers pick red over green almost every time!)
Temperamental taste buds. Some toddlers are just born supersensitive. They hate rough clothes, loud noises, and strong flavors.
Some parents avoid battles they can’t win. So rather than trying to force your toddler to eat something he doesn’t want, sidestep the conflict by hiding it in the food he likes or finding a win-win compromise.
Connect with Respect. Narrate your toddler’s strong desire not to eat so she knows you understand.
Catch Others Being Good. Point out what toddlers have on their plates when you visit restaurants. Invite older kids to your house to eat a meal. Toddlers love imitating others, especially slightly older kids.
Win-Win Compromise. Compete to see who can chomp down the “little trees” (broccoli) the fastest. Offer choices (“Should I give you three peas or two?”) and suggest a win-win compromise (“Eat a green bean and you can have another French fry. Eat two more green beans and you can have all five of these French fries!”). If your toddler drives a hard bargain and eats only one tiny nibble of the bean, you should still give her a piece of the French fry because that’s definitely a baby step in the right direction.
Reverse Psychology. When your toddler reaches for a piece of broccoli, at first let her have only a tiny piece. Say, “No way! Mommy wants them ALL ….they’re Mommy’s trees.” When your tot gobbles up her piece, exaggerate a pretend pout and say, “Hey, that’s mine…you ate my broccoli!”
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