When parents, beaming with pride, tell me about their baby who eats absolutely everything placed on the high chair tray, I nod and smile politely. I don’t want to burst their bubble. They don’t know what’s ahead.
If you have a toddler, you know all too well that the amicable, adventurous eater you had as a baby morphs into something a bit less agreeable, usually around the age of two.
If you have a toddler, you know all too well that the amicable, adventurous eater you had as a baby morphs into something a bit less agreeable, usually around the age of two. This is the start of a phase people call picky eating, and it drives parents bonkers.
But it’s also completely normal. Consider what’s going on in your child’s life. For starters, the enormous growth rate seen of the first year of life slows dramatically by age two. That also explains your child’s fluctuating appetite: Some days she devours her lunch, other days she picks at it. Some days it seems like she barely eats anything! This is often worrisome for parents, but all perfectly natural.
Your toddler also has a newfound sense of independence. He wants to do things by himself and has some strong preferences (toast cut into triangles not squares, the blue cup not the red one—sound familiar?). He’s voicing opinions about food and noticing when he gets a rise from you if he refuses. It can even turn into a fun game for him! It doesn’t help that his go-go-go desire to keep moving means he doesn’t want to sit at the table either.
But knowing that picky eating is normal doesn’t erase the frustrations. Of course you worry about your child getting the nutrition she needs, but it’s also aggravating when your toddler turn up her nose at food you’ve spent time preparing (and maybe the exact same food she loved just yesterday!). So here’s some advice on navigating this phase with your sanity intact:
Relax: Deep breaths. Serenity now. The more you fret about food, the more your child will pick up on your frustrations—and may very well dig in his heels even more. Your job as a parent is to offer your child an array of healthy foods at regular meals and snacks. Do your part and then, in the words of Queen Elsa, let it go. Trust your child to get what he needs. Model healthy eating. And keep the vibe at the table positive and pleasant as much as you can.
Cook one meal. Being a short-order cook isn’t good for you (who needs extra work at dinnertime?) or your child (she’ll never learn to branch out if she gets chicken nuggets or PB&J every night). Serve the same meal to the family but make sure there’s something on the table that everyone likes, even if it’s just rice or fruit. Deconstructing the meal is also okay, like serving plain noodles with a choice of toppings instead of a mixed pasta dish.
Don’t give up. I see too many parents who conclude that their child will never eat green vegetables, so they just stop trying. It can take many, many exposures (even months or years) for some kids to warm up to certain foods. In the meantime, continue to offer them and try different variations (like broccoli that’s raw, roasted, and stir-fried) or even dips (like melted cheese, BBQ sauce, or even yogurt). You never know when you’ll stumble onto something they like.
Most of all, take heart: Picky eating does not last forever. Most kids turn a corner at age 5 or 6. Though that probably seems like an eternity, rest assured that while you may not return to that blissful, eat-absolutely-everything phase of baby days gone by, you will once again have a child who enjoys eating—even if she is dunking her asparagus into ketchup.