1 Finicky Toddler Puts 5 Picky Eater Tips to the Test

1 Finicky Toddler Puts 5 Picky Eater Tips to the Test

One mom tests tricks from other parents and experts for getting picky toddlers to try new foods.

By: Marisa Torrieri Bloom

My toddler son is so picky he doesn’t even eat pizza and birthday cake at his friends’ birthdays, let alone green beans and grilled chicken cubes. And every time one of my friends gives me advice that’s “guaranteed” to get my son to like something, I get excited and revved up -- only to be met with disappointment once dinnertime rolls around. Over the last few months, I’ve tried a few tactics that have worked really well -- the best of which is nonchalantly eating snacks and healthy foods in front of him while he is hungry -- but I would love to expand his palate.

So for the past 14 days, I decided to test drive several picky-toddler tactics found on blogs and expert websites and shared by mom friends -- some easy and some a little more labor intensive. Of course, age needs to be considered, too. My son is 26 months old, so some of the ideas presented on parenting blogs may work better on 18-month-old toddlers and others can probably be saved for 3-year-olds.

Here, I reveal what happened when I tried out five “surefire” ways for getting my toddler to try new foods.

Tactic no. 1: Cut food into fun shapes. I’m always reading great blogs that suggest creative ways to make familiar art out of food. And while I love an American flag made of strawberries and blueberries, or a lion fashioned out of waffles, I don’t have time to make elaborate, edible animal art. So I did what I could: served pinwheel-shaped pasta and a tablespoon of hummus with two peas for eyes, a piece of cucumber for the nose, and a turned-up red pepper for the smile. At dinner, my toddler looked confused as he pointed to the plain pasta and asked, “Is this?” He looked amused as he poked at the two peas, and dipped his fork gently into the blob of hummus and licked it. By the end of dinner, he had eaten the hummus and peas -- which was no surprise since hummus is his favorite food -- but left behind the pasta, red pepper, and cucumber (which I’ve gotten him to eat by other means). Verdict: not worth my time now. I’ll try again when he turns 3.

Tactic no. 2: Serve an array of colorful foods. Creating a buffet of interesting, varied, vibrant foods comes from Dr. Sears, who suggests to parents of picky toddlers: “Use an ice cube tray, a muffin tin, or a compartmentalized dish, and put bite-size portions of colorful and nutritious foods in each section.” I already had divided plates, so one night I decided I would place a tablespoon of hummus in one of the small sections (to ensure he’d eat something), a medley of red grapes, raw orange peppers in another, and fries of two different shades (sweet potato and regular) in the big section. As expected, Nathan dug right into the hummus and had a bite of a regular fry (still ignoring the sweet potato fries I hoped he’d eat). But he was intrigued by the raw orange pepper and picked it up and had a bite. That first bite opened the door to a second bite later in the week when I served orange peppers again. This week, they’re part of the regular rotation. Verdict: partial success!

Tactic no. 3: Serve the same food night after night. When my friend D wanted to get her daughter to eat fish sticks, she served them for several days straight. Eventually, it worked. I also wanted my son, who is the same age as D’s daughter, to eat fish sticks (he just ignored them the first few times I made them), but after serving them four dinners in a row, he no longer found them to be a simple, interesting addition to his plate. “No fiss stick, Mommy, no!” he shouted and whined on that fourth night. Verdict: total fail.

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Tactic no. 4: Serve new foods when they’re really hungry. OK, so I admit I have successfully tried this already and gotten my son to eat pasta with tomato sauce, peas, corn, and a few other staples. So I figured I’d take the next step: Offer foods he had refused or wasn’t likely to seek out. My first test: cooked green beans. Within two seconds of seeing these, he was screaming for a “bite” (his word for a nutrition bar) until I eventually gave in. I also tried avocado on another night. It actually piqued his interest -- but alas, no bites! At least he stayed in a good mood for the rest of dinner (hummus, again). Verdict: success, but don’t set your expectations too high!


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Tactic no. 5: Repeatedly eat new foods in front of them. My doctor told me that the key to getting my toddler to eat new foods was to eat them myself. So instead of just munching on celery sticks while feeding my toddler dinner one night, I decided to make myself a plate of raw broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. While I loaded myself with tons of nutrients, my toddler did nothing. He just ate his french fries and peas and kept to himself. The next day, I created the same concoction, and again, nothing. However, this past weekend, I did notice him pick up and examine a tiny piece of cauliflower as he watched me dip veggies into salsa. Verdict: no success, but there’s hope!

While this two-week experiment was, at best, only mildly successful, seeing my toddler eating red and orange peppers on a regular basis was worth the effort. We’re making progress toward my son embracing and enjoying a wider variety of foods. Still, I plan to keep testing some of these methods, as he grows older. Perhaps a few months from now, he’ll be nibbling on those now-rejected “fiss sticks.”

What tactics have you tested to get your kid to eat new foods, and how well did they work?

Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a freelance writer and guitar teacher who lives with her husband and two young sons in Fairfield, Connecticut.

Image ©iStock.com/onebluelight

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My kid will eat many thing if I offer a variety of dipping sauces, like ranch or ketchup. He also will eat anything we grow ourselves. A simple fruit salad with some French vanilla yogurt will keep him eating...

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