The 8 Stages of Getting Your Picky Toddler to Eat

The 8 Stages of Getting Your Picky Toddler to Eat

You do not simply set down food and expect it to be eaten.


By Gemma Hartley

Anyone who has a picky toddler knows that dinnertime is not merely a meal, it is often a battleground. There are strategies and stages. You ride a full emotional rollercoaster along with your child from the moment you start cooking to the bedraggled end of your family meal. For those who don’t know (or for those who know all too well), these are the universal phases of getting your picky toddler to eat.

1. Denial
You start thinking about making dinner and decide that tonight is the night everyone in the family is going to sit down to a peaceful meal and eat the same thing. You throw caution to the wind and make a main dish that is not on your toddler’s approved list foods. This is a mistake.

2. Trickery
You decide to start hyping up the new food to your toddler. You let her be involved in the cooking process. You use a cheerful and soothing tone to trick her into thinking this meal was her idea, and it seems like maybe, just maybe, this is working.

3. Disappointment
Dinner is served. Despite happily indulging your dinner fantasy during phase two, your toddler is now incensed that this food on the table is not the food that she desires. It is clear that your toddler will now not enjoy her dinner, and by extension, neither will anyone else at the table .

4. Bargaining
In attempt to curb the inevitable tantrum, you try negotiations. A full bowl of chocolate ice cream for trying three miniscule bites of chicken. Okay, two. One? Please, please, just eat one piece and give me back some semblance of control over my life.

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5. Anger
You decide to double down and say, “This is what we are having for dinner. You may not have a piece of toast with strawberry jam.” For a brief moment you are pleased with your firm parenting. Then your toddler’s face grows red, her eyes brim with tears, and a banshee-like shriek emerges from her lungs. The noise continues throughout the meal.

6. Existential Questioning
Why did I think chicken was a good idea? Why did I try to bargain with a toddler? How can I escape to the bathroom right now to eat the chocolate ice cream my child will no longer have for dessert? What am I doing with my life?

7. Guilt
You start to wonder if your attempts to force a balanced meal upon your child is causing her lifelong food anxiety issues. You begin to feel guilty about your choice of “kid-friendly” chicken and vegetables, as your child sits and starves and screams (still).

8. Acceptance
Your toddler is clearly not going to eat this dinner. You decide to accept defeat and pour cereal into a bowl and wipe the tantrum drool from the table before setting down the bowl. Your child quiets considerably for a few moments, but soon begins wailing again. It’s the wrong kind of cereal.

Is mealtime one of your biggest parenting struggles?


Gemma Hartley writes about parenting, health, and personal finance. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog, and a terrible cat. You can follow her on Twitter.

Image ©iStock.com/zlikovac

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