6 Tips for Getting Picky Kids to Eat from ‘Give Peas a Chance’

Parents Magazine

by Kristen Kemp

I know a 3-year-old boy who won’t eat pasta of any kind, not even mac and cheese. I know another 2-year-old girl who will hardly eat anything else. Getting kids to eat healthy, varied and normal food can be like trying to tie your shoe with your teeth. It’s completely impossible–and totally gross. I’ll never forget when my son spit chewed up avocados at me, raspberry-style.

Mealtimes with little kids don’t have to be so crazy according to Kate Samela, a pediatric dietician who wrote the new book Give Peas a Chance. I wish I’d had this great resource when my kids were toddlers. Samela explains all of the reasons why this age group is so picky. First of all, maybe they’re just being normal, fidgety and finicky kids. Second, 2- and 3- year olds are all about autonomy (read: power struggles). The author goes on to give meal plans and food ideas that are helpful for all parents of toddlers.

From Samela herself, here are 6 tips for getting picky kids to eat:

1. Offer the food with a safety food and as part of a meal. A safety food is one food that you are certain your toddler will accept–something familiar and likeable. For example, if you are trying to expose your toddler to a new meat, pair it with his favorite fruit or vegetable and a starch (i.e. watermelon and French fries).

2. Allow your toddler to touch and play with that food, even if it means putting it in his mouth and then spitting it out. Playing with food is something that toddlers do and they engage in this activity because it is a key part of their development.

3. Serve the same food to all at the table, so your toddler will see other people eating what he is being served.

4. Offer the food in small quantities so that he does not get discouraged or overwhelmed. “Portion Distortion” begins in the toddler stage: Bags of chips, cookies, and snack crackers are bigger than ever. Often, parents feel like their toddler is eating nothing because they have piled on grown-up portion sizes, or even quantities of food that an older sibling would eat.

5. If after two minutes your toddler says the dreaded “I’m done,” ignore him and attempt to engage him to talk about something he did that day. Do not try and overzealously attempt to keep him at the table, or set “rules” for what else he has to eat before he gets down. There is a biological reason for a decrease in food intake between the ages of one to three, and that is a slower rate of growth. Appetite mimics rate of growth; therefore, appetite “slows down.”

6. Consider what your toddler eats over the course of a week, rather than from meal to meal. You can even pick several days if a week seems just too long. The idea that his decrease in appetite is developmentally appropriate should give you some reassurance for those days that his eating doesn’t seem to add up to nutrition perfection.  In a day, it can be normal for a toddler to eat one “good” meal.

Fingers crossed for happy, healthy meals in 2013!