If you’re having trouble getting your little one to eat variety or to try foods other than their current few faves, here are some ideas for you to try—and tips to know when to reach out for help.
Oh toddlers, with their quirky food habits. I’m sure that your toddler has his or her favorite foods, and that those favorite foods sometimes do an about-face when you least expect it. Let’s remember:
It’s normal for your toddler to want to eat what’s familiar to them.
It’s normal for them to prefer certain foods over others.
It’s normal for some textures to be tricky.
This is part of the process of them learning to eat a variety of food—and of your process teaching them to be a capable, confident eater. It all takes time (though I realize that knowing that does not make the logistics of feeding them dinner easier!)
Your toddler won’t eat? Help is here!
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Best Tips for Helping Toddlers Eat a Range of Foods
Here are some things to try if you’re wanting to expand your child’s eating out from just a narrow selection of foods.
1. Embrace their Favorites, and expect them to change
It’s really normal for little kids to have phases when they only want certain foods. It’s also normal for those preferences to change. So I fully embrace buying their favorite foods and also I expect them to change. (So I never buy favorite snacks in bulk, myself!) Which is to say, a child who loves strawberries for weeks and then wants no strawberries isn’t picky. They are simply through their strawberry loving phase.
I find that this perspective shift away from labeling every kid who doesn’t want a food as “picky” can help us see feeding our kids as less of a fight, and more of a journey.
2. Zoom way out
Intake is always more varied when we look at what we’re eating over a whole day or a whole week, so always try to zoom out and focus less on each bite. This can help set your mind at ease.
3. Offer favorites with other foods
Try to include another food or two with their favorite—grab a banana or some cheese, or whatever you happen to have—so they are always reminded that we sometimes eat other foods. It’s okay if they don’t always eat it, but you might just be surprised.
This is also a simple way to help them eat a variety of food groups throughout the day and fill their bellies between meals and snacks.
4. MOdel Eating a variety
There’s a lot of benefit to the kids seeing us eat a range of foods over time, so you can know that they are likely being exposed to that without you even trying. They’ll see you eating different foods and will understand that eating different foods is normal.
And then you can help them follow your lead at times by offering two choices to keep their little brains from being overwhelmed is a great option. Say something like: “Would you like a banana or applesauce today?”.
5. Take baby steps with new textures if needed
If your kid doesn’t like creamy things (mashed potatoes, pureed soups, yogurt), it’s possible that those foods are moving too quickly in their mouths—and the slippery feeling is uncomfortable. You can try serving those foods with some texture mixed in, such as serve just a little soup stirred into grains or as a dip with crackers. You can leave mashed potatoes chunky or drizzle a little yogurt over fruit.
Keep portions small so they can try foods without feeling overwhelmed and remember that learning to enjoy new textures is a process—and that it might be okay if your kiddo doesn’t like everything!
TIP: Read more on helping toddlers with texture aversions.
6. Let a particular food run out
It’s normal to sometimes eat all of one food and have to move on to others, so I try not to run to the store to replace a favorite food (unless it happens to be my normal day to shop). And I do vary the types of snacks we eat, some bars and crackers some weeks, others in other weeks. That may or may not work well for your child, but for my kids, it’s been helpful to learn that we sometimes have different versions of foods.
TIP: Find simple tips for helping kids try new foods here.
7. Know when to reach out for help
If you are worried that your child is only eating a few foods, I recommend writing down everything they eat for a few weeks. If the list is smaller than 20 foods, it might be very helpful to reach out to a feeding therapist (like my friends at Sunnyside Up Nutrition or Thrive with Spectrum) or try the Toddlers Course from Feeding Littles.
I’d love to hear your feedback on these tips, so please comment below.
This post was first published September 2015.