12 Tips to Get Your Picky Toddler to Eat

If you have a super picky eater on your hands, implement House Call Doctor's 12 tips on how to get them to eat more food and more variety - without turning every meal into a battleground.

Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #141

6.       Close Ranks:  Try to incorporate as many family meals together as possible.  When kids join the dinner table and eat with the family, they witness you eating, and will try to emulate the example you set.  If you use a fork, they too will be more motivated to use a fork.  If they see you saying “please” when passing the bread, they too will do the same.  If they see you eating the vegetables, they too will be more likely to try the mysterious green things.

7.       Bite the Bullet:  If your child infrequently and strongly dislikes a family meal you have prepared on a certain occasion, it’s okay to bite the bullet and substitute the main dish for something else.  As long as it’s not a frequent occurrence and you are not turning yourself into a short-order cook.  Kids should understand that they are expected to eat what the entire family is eating.  As a side note, even skipping an occasional entire meal is harmless (as long as it’s not a common occurrence) – so if they are simply not hungry at one particular meal and want to skip it, it will not hurt them.

8.       Consider Changing the Plan of Attack:  If you have a picky eater, you can try to change the presentation of some foods to see if it sparks their interest.  For instance, my kids will not eat a cooked piece of intact carrot, but if I cut it into circles well, then that changes everything.  I’ve seen some parents also cut food into neat shapes using cookie cutters. 

9.       Surrender, But Never Abandon:  Continue to introduce new foods.  Your child may not touch any new foods when introduced initially.  In fact, it may take 10 to 20 times of seeing that new food on their plate (and other people eating it) before they finally taste it.  New foods are often acquired tastes for toddlers and this process often takes time to develop.  Don’t force them to try the food or take a bite, just leave it on their plate and they will taste in when they are ready. 

10.    Avoid Enemy Scrutiny:  Avoid conversations about food and eating at meal times.  Shift the focus and scrutiny away from their intake.  Set a fun and cheerful tone, talk about your positive experiences from your day.  Engage the kids in conversation.  Also, avoid praising them for eating a lot – they should be eating to please themselves, not their parents.

11.   Replenish the Troops:  If you are concerned about your child’s nutritional intake, consider a daily multivitamin. 

12.   Counting Casualties:  When reviewing your toddler’s nutritional intake, try to avoid viewing it from a daily perspective, but instead from a weekly one.  That's because it’s very normal for toddlers to eat well one day and not the next.  If they don’t eat well one day, it’s okay.   Don’t get worked up over what they did or didn’t eat today – as long as they are getting a variety of foods over a weeklong period, they are fine.

Mealtime Battle Warning Signs

Your child’s doctor will plot his growth at every well child check-up – ask your doctor about your child’s growth.  Children should be maintaining their growth along the same curvature on the graph (and not dropping). 

However, if your child experiences any of the following issues, please discuss it with her doctor right away:

  • Weight loss

  • Lack of any weight gain for 6 months

  • If they are feeling ill in any other way – diarrhea, fever, fatigue, etc

  • If your child gags on or vomits certain foods

  • If despite the 12 tips mentioned above there is no improvement in their intake

  • If you are concerned for any reason

Well, soldier, it’s time to begin some serious boot camp training and prepare for your upcoming mealtime obstacle courses – all is fair in love and war (it’s mostly love, don’t worry, I know).

Share your ideas and learn more quick and dirty tips with us on the House Call Doctor’s Facebook and Twitter pages!

Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only.  This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider.  Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.



About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

The Quick and Dirty Tips Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.