Encouraging toddlers to eat a variety of foods

This question is a combination of inquiries that we have received relating to a 15 month old who is a very picky eater, an 11 month old who won't eat solid foods and another toddler who won't eat anything but one or two of his favorite foods. One mother summed it up by asking: "I am wondering if readers have creative ideas on getting their kids to eat. Any tips would be appreciated."

"I believe in the three meal a day method - feed them what your having or the foods from the basic 4 - offer liquids after eating unless they're very thirst. No snacks unless a nutritious carbohydrate. Avoid too much milk in between meals, it fills them up and stays in stomach longer and decreases hunger at meal time. You can offer an alternative equivalent if what you're serving is something they can't stand, but be firm and consistent. Set a good example at the dinner table and their desire to do as you do will eventually get them interested."

"The older children may be able to assist with food preparation. Children will often eat what they helped make. Several cook books I know of offer wonderful recipes that young children can help with : CRUNCHY BANANAS, by Barbara Wilms; KINDER KRUNCHIES (I don't know the author); and KIDS COOKING, by Vicki Lansky."

"I have found that my 21 month old son will eat one type of food at a time. This passes and then he is on to another favorite food. I continue to offer and put on his plate a sampling of what we are having. All books I have read say this is very normal and the more the parent tries to force other foods on the toddler, the more he/she will refuse."

"I assume that if my daughter doesn't want it (especially if it's a food she usually eats) she's not hungry and I simply remove it. The meal is over. My husband will scold and force her to eat. I'm afraid she might have a weight problem later with that approach."

"A serving of food is measured by the tablespoonful for a toddler whereas adult servings are measured by the 1/2 or full cups. By who's standards are you saying the toddler is not eating enough? Consider that by a child's first birthday he has nearly tripled his birth weight. That takes a lot of eating! But from his first birthday to his second, he does not triple

his birth weight. So of course he will be eating less food. As a mother of three, believe me, a child will eat when he's hungry. Let him be your guide. All this `hullabaloo' about a child eating more is leading to obesity and related health problems later in life."

"I think that the best way to handle a picky eater is by not making a big fuss over their eating habits. Simply put a well balanced meal in front of them at each meal time, and one day they will surprise you and try their vegetables (or fruit or meat, etc.) and find out that it's not so bad after all. Also, are meal times happy, relaxing, family occasions? Children should view meal time as a pleasurable activity rather than just a necessity - and observe the rest of the family enjoying healthy meals."

"I'd encourage you not to worry too much about it. Some days our 2 year old son won't eat anything but Raisin Bran, the next day he eats three full meals. I give him a vitamin each day just to cover the shortfalls. Our doctor says they get what they need and they won't starve! We eliminate between meal snacks though and cut out as much sugar and sweets as possible. If you make too big a struggle pout of it, you'll have a life long battle over food and that defeats the whole purpose!"

"Our son just turned 5 and we have tried a few basic rules (or `deals') with some success. Food that is good for you before food that only tastes good (ice cream or a cookie). If you don't want to finish it OK, but put it away. I you asked for it you finish it before you get anything else. Right now we're working to get ourselves out of this. No deals, no junk food, and let him eat what he wants. For the under 2 crowd, what's the rush?"

"Children go through phases of not eating or only eating certain things. I offer a variety of fruits, vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates for meals and mid-morning and afternoon snacks. I feel if it's offered, then I'm giving them the opportunity to eat well. You can't force or bribe good eating habits."

"Don't fret over it. My son stopped eating big meals at about age 10 months and didn't really start again until he was nearly 4 years old. He is small for his age and quite slender but not skinny. He is perfectly healthy. I let him eat what he wanted that was nutritious in the amounts he wanted even if it was only 1 tiny meal a day. Now I wish he'd stop eating. He can put away 2 full sandwiches at a sitting. I let him determine his eating and he's been fine."

"I try to feed my daughter as much finger foods as possible then she will feed herself. She seems to eat more when she feeds herself."

"From day one, my son (now 4) wouldn't touch a vegetable of any kind. That is until one day when his grandmother set out a veggie tray with dip. He got such a bang out of the whole `dipping' process that today I hear words I thought would never come out of his mouth....`I love broccoli'!"

"My nephew (who is now 15) ate and still eats only specific foods and anything sweet he can get his hands on. While he is basically healthy, he does have problems eating out of the home. My observation as to what has been successful is `Grandma's Rule', which is to pair a wanted food with a less desired food - alternate bites and go for it! If they are hungry enough they will eat and try new foods."

"I certainly understand picky eaters. Right now my 2 year old's favorite foods are ketchup and chocolate chips! I try to feed her good foods often - not by the standard three-meal clock but whenever she shows signs of being hungry. And I don't necessarily feed her the standard meals - sometimes she has breakfast cereal at night or a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast. Just keep trying anything at any time."

"You can try the obvious of cutting down on junky snacks, making foods your kids will like, etc. but the thing to concentrate on is not making an issue of it. My picky eater is 4 and thriving."

"My idea is keep offering a variety of foods and not many treat foods. Keep snacks healthy. I have been known to cut up broccoli real small and put it on pizza under the cheese. (It's good!)"

"I sing to my little one, but don't want to continue this forever. It does quiet him down and rivets his attention on me, which seems to make it easier for him to eat. (He's 17 months old.) I also eat with him, and he usually wants what I'm having!"

"Meal times can be fun times. Use imagination while fixing meals. For example, make pancakes into animals, or cut sandwiches into little shapes. Also try to make kids meal times the same as yours - and keep little ones in their high chairs until everyone is done eating. I also tell my daughter stories while I feed her to keep her attention."

"First, remember that no child will starve herself. she is getting enough food. Let her eat what she wants until she's sick of it. Many baked goods are good places to hide nutrition. things like eggs and vegetables such as zuccini or pumpkin bread. Don't get into a battle of wills. Everyone loses. Also, think about providing good nutrition on a weekly rather than daily basis."

"Give the 15 month old choices like `Would you like peas or carrots'. Sometimes this works. Give finger foods cut in small pieces - cheese, peas, bread with butter. Let them pick up finger food themselves."

"As the parent of what our pediatrician calls a `low volume eater', I've learned to be more flexible about what constitutes a meal. For example, my 2 year old loves to help make dinner and in the course of `helping' can consume a fair amount, so it's not a big deal if she eats less at the table. Since her tastes change frequently, we're constantly experimenting with new (healthy) snacks, rather than always pushing a lot of new foods at meal time. When all else fails I remember the words of wisdom Ellen Satter offers in CHILD OF MINE, an excellent book on child nutrition: `The parent's job is to provide the food, the child's job is to eat it. You can only do so much."

"I simply buy nutritious foods and rarely stock non-nutritious items. If the children are truly hungry, they will eat what there is available. beyond that I seldom interfere with their eating. They are both healthy and neither over weight nor under weight."

"Don't worry about it. The baby will eat solid foods when he/she is ready. Our son at that age did not want to eat solids and he eventually out grew it. At 12 months he began eating only fruits and we would try to force or coax him to eat other foods. Meal time was becoming a battle ground so we sought the advice of a nutritionist who put every thing in perspective. Her best advice was, `the parent is responsible for choosing and presenting the food. The child is responsible for eating or even not eating the food.'" Once we backed off, his eating picked up. Now when we look at what he has had to eat over a period of one to two weeks instead of daily, he is eating a nutritionally balanced diet."

"Keep offering a variety of healthy foods in ways your child finds attractive. These toddlers are just leaning to eat `regular' food. As their positive experiences with table foods increase, so will their appetites."

"In my JANE BRODY'S GOOD FOOD BOOK, it suggests to modify recipes so kids will eat them. Examples are to put certain ingredients to disguise their presence but retain their nutrients. Make two different meals for adults and children that use the same basic ingredients but differ in the amount of spice, or introduce kids to grown-up food - insisting they just taste it. If they don't want to eat it after trying it, offer a sandwich and fruit as an alternative. Eventually they will learn to like most foods. Don't make it a power struggle! Other suggestions are: Don't serve mushy, over cooked veggies and leave out things they really hate; Serve small portions of `iffy' foods and introduce only one new food at a time; Give foods catchy names - broccoli could be `baby trees', etc.; Serve fruits if kids won't eat veggies - they have many of the same nutrients and kids usually like them."

"Try foods with many different textures and colors (a little pile of peas, dice potatoes, diced sweet potatoes, cubed tofu, whole wheat bread cut in strips, etc.) and let him explore while spooning in apple sauce, yogurt, cereal, etc. Finger food is fun for children."

"Add nutrients to the food he likes. Example: Add grated carrots to pancakes. Disguise foods before you add them. Use apple juice instead of water when cooking rice, mix whole grain cereals into vanilla yogurt, etc."

"I have found that my kids tastes change daily. Continue to offer foods they don't like once every 2 weeks. Offer mashed potatoes instead of baked or boiled. If possible, let your child help you prepare meals. Limit snacks to fruits and raw vegetables. Don't make food too spicy, hot or cold. Don't make a big deal out of getting your child to try something. If they don't eat their meal, put it in the refrigerator and give it to them when they are hungry 5 minutes late. Children watch what you eat. Make mealtime a pleasant experience!"

"In working with children of all ages in day-care, I found that talking about textures of food and then have the child taste the food and tell you what it feels like. It helps for me!"

"I grind up fresh raw brocolli, carrots, etc., into very tiny pieces and then slip them into Sloppy Joes, spaghetti and anything else. I do this for the whole family and no one even notices!"

"Offer as much variety of foods as possible, but give a choice of small amounts of 2 to 3 items at a time - the children will ask for more of the favorite. I've found that my son enjoys learning and repeating the names of foods. I always let him see me eat something before introducing it to him; then I identify it, offer hime some, and describe what he can expect (i.e. - cold or hot, sweet or sour, soft or hard, etc.). So, meal time is usually not a problem except when our 19 month old is teething or tired. Then we don't force anything but keep offering fluids. Sometimes allowing him to sit on my lap and eat from my plate."

"I always felt I had (and still have) the pickiest eater around. My oldest child, now 10, ate nothing but strained baby food, until age 4. He refuses to eat meat and always has. My advise: give your baby/child, whatever he will eat. If it's nothing but peanut butter sandwiches or grilled cheese, or macaroni and cheese. As long as it's healthy, let him eat it and supplement with multiple vitamins. Our pediatrician says our son is very healthy and if given time and patience, he'll gradually eat a larger assortment of food, which he is just beginning to do now. He's one of the tallest children in his fifth grade class and rarely even has a cold. When he was a baby, and being our first child, we fell under the pressure of other `advice givers', and pushed foods on him. It only made all meal times miserable. Please don't force feed. All kids come around and will eat better, if just left alone and casually offered a variety of foods."

"Our son `exploded' into eating solids at 16 months. So, be patient; I know it's frustrating. Keep offering a variety of foods, but don't force the issue. Sometimes we went through a lot to get our son to try that first taste. Now he likes cream cheese on pretzels, cottage cheese, mini fruit cup, and turkey sandwiches."

"How about making the food fun. Such as: Finger jello; A heart drawn on the open peanut butter sandwich; Or setting the food on his plate in a pattern (face, clown, etc.)."

"We have a 20 month old daughter who - so far - has eaten a wide variety of foods (everything from corn on the cob to Thai & Mexican). Whenever I introduce a new food, I just give it to her and say `here'. I let her play with it and then eat it or not, as she chooses. Frequently, I don't fix a plate for her, but give her food off our plates, so she has no doubt she's eating what the big people eat. And, I try not to always insist she eat her meal before a dessert, and not making a big deal in general about her eating. I just give her a variety of foods so as not to make meal time a power struggle."

"I think that a child will eat what they need and as long as you offer the child well-balanced nutritional meals they will thrive. You cannot force a child to eat (you wouldn't like someone to force you to eat, would you?). All you can do is give the child the opportunity, to try new foods and make them as appealing as you'd like them to be."

"Try adding food color to cream of wheat or oatmeal. We also have some small wind up action figures we let go on the table when they too fidgety at meal time. They get such a kick from this that I don't think they realize they're eating."

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