Tackling Your Toddler’s Picky Eating Habits


I have an almost two and half year old, and at this point I’m not sure how he’s surviving. He pretty much hates most food. His diet resembles that of a bird or small forest animal….bread and fruit are his main source of calories. I know his behavior is fairly normal for a toddler. I know everyone says “they will eat when they are hungry” and “don’t make a special meal just for your kids.” However, this advice is not always super helpful. It’s hard to reason with a toddler and frankly, I am usually too tired to argue with him about what to eat or when. (Plus, you can’t really argue with a toddler. It’s more like screaming that gets increasingly louder until someone gives in.) I do worry about his nutrition and try to create healthy habits. But now that he is old enough to ask for something specific or say he is hungry, I usually oblige. Most of my evenings consist of me serving food I think he might try, only to have him throw it on the ground or feed it to the dogs. He then usually asks for chicken nuggets (and he will only tolerate one specific, expensive kind of chicken nugget, of course) or a cracker. I then say “you have to eat to live!” and eventually give in because he has to eat something, right?!

However, the pickiness can still be frustrating; especially because I specifically took care to expose him to all sorts of different foods when he began eating solids. I gave him baby snacks but also avocado, all sorts of fruits, black beans, lots of veggies, used different spices….in effort to create a diverse palate in my child. But this effort (which now just exhausts me thinking about it) was in vain, since he now refuses most of the foods he initially enjoyed. So instead of spiced sweet potatoes or black bean quesadillas, I’m serving what appears to be a toddler prison diet: bread, crackers, and occasionally yogurt. And it’s pretty much the same items at every meal because I know that’s what he will eat.
Now, I bet you thought this post would have some awesome mom tips on how to get your kid to eat healthy foods or try new things. Initially, I figured that our readers were going to end up disappointed because I didn’t think I had any fun tips. But, then I realized that I do have a few tricks that might work for others. They are sort of unconventional, not really sophisticated, and you might still be disappointed, but here are a few things I have tried that have (sort of) worked:

1. Make sure any new foods that you try out will be eaten by someone else in your house if/when your child refuses it.

I learned this after buying a few snacks that I don’t care for but thought my son would like…and of course he hated them. My husband will eat most things but he usually draws the line at organic child snacks. So next time, I made sure to buy a snack that someone would eat if the kid refused it. I tried out blueberry yogurt covered pretzels….kid hated them, husband liked. Another failed attempt, at least I didn’t waste our money.

2. Offer healthy foods first.

I know this tip sounds like a no-brainer, but it actually took me some time to get this down when we first transitioned from breast milk to table food. I used to get so excited to try out foods or treats that I thought my son would like, that I would offer those first instead of fruits or veggies. I realized that if I wanted to create healthy habits in my child, I should offer those foods before other snacks and try to create a preference for fresh food over processed food. This one actually worked for the most part…he likes snacks of course, but we mostly provide organic or low-sugar treats. And he still loves most fruits and will usually ask for them daily. Veggies, not so much, but hey, I still consider this a victory.

3. If you can get away with calling a food “cake” or some other fun treat your child likes, I think it’s worth it to get them to taste it.

Ok, this is sort of silly, and seems counterintuitive to the last tip, but I have actually had some success with this too. One night, I made chili and cornbread muffins for dinner. My son saw the muffins and asked to try the “cake.” I ran with that and told him of course he could try the delicious cake I just made! And to my surprise, he actually ate it! A food that he had never been interested in trying before! I was overjoyed! So if something looks even remotely like “cake” or a “treat,” then that’s what I call it to encourage trying a new food. It’s sort of deceptive, yes, but overall harmless, and he usually at least tastes it. This trick has gotten him to eat healthy homemade muffins and breakfast bars that look similar to “cake.” It also sometimes helps me get through the grocery store while he eats some “cake” (blueberry muffin) from a coffee shop. It probably won’t work much longer, but I will hang on to what works as long as I can!

4. And lastly…keep trying.

This is the tip I keep repeating to myself when my child is throwing spaghetti and French fries (what kid won’t eat French fries?!) on the ground with a look of disgust on his face.

“Pick your battles” is advice that parents often hear, and I decided that this is not a battle I’m going to pick at this phase of our lives. Eating just happens too frequently to stress about it too much. And like every phase of childhood, I know this won’t last forever. He might not always be open to different foods, but he won’t always hate everything either. So, I will just keep trying, offering different foods, but also balancing that with what I know works and trying to keep my child happy. And isn’t that really what parenthood is all about?

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Andrea Connell
Andrea Connell is social worker, wife, and mom to a smart, active, and sweet toddler, Brady. Originally from Lexington, OH (not Kentucky as commonly thought!), she moved to Columbus in 2001 to attend college at The Ohio State University, and it has been home ever since. She earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work, and has worked with children in some capacity for over ten years, including as a therapist, case manager, and early intervention service coordinator. She now works full-time for a large social service agency, but a flexible schedule allows her to manage work, motherhood, and domestic duties and keep (somewhat) sane. She met her husband, Brian, through mutual friends about six years ago and they have been married since 2013. Andrea loves living in Columbus and enjoys exploring all the fun places, events, and festivals that the city offers. Most weekends, you can find her and her family at the Columbus Zoo or any park that is conducive to expending toddler energy. She loves spending time with her friends and extended family, which includes ten nieces and nephews! Other interests include reading (when she can stay awake long enough to do so), occasional date nights with her husband, texting instead of talking on the phone, local coffee shops, live music, and attempting crafty projects that may or may not get finished.


  1. Great post, Andrea! Feeding toddlers is tough, with a capital “T!” Hang in there! My daughter, who just turned 2, is a pretty good eater, but she also has her days when she throws everything on the floor and will only eat cheerios or yogurt… Like you, I often pick my battles and trying to get her to eat something she refuses is a never ending battle and on most days I’m way too tired or not in the mood to argue with her and give in. Something she’s pretty good about eating is when I make a plate of a bunch of finger foods – sliced green peppers, strawberries, cheese, black beans, apple slices, etc. with a dip – yogurt, hummus, peanut butter, etc. She loves having something to dip her foods into. Not sure if it might work with your little one or not, but just an idea 🙂 Good Luck and definitely keep us posted if you get new tips!!

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