12 Tips to Transform Your Picky Toddler into a Healthy Eater

Today Lauren from The Military Wife and Mom shares her great tips that have transformed her picky toddler into a healthy eater

I have a confession to make…

We struggle with getting our toddler to eat enough healthy foods. Some days it’s smooth sailing; others, are tough. I honestly don’t mind eating macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, but it’s unfortunately not a balanced diet when that is all your child wants to eat.

Well balanced meals and good nutrition make a huge impact mood, behaviour, and overall health in the long run. So lately, we developed a healthy eating action plan, and we’ve seen some great results.

Maybe you are a parent, just like me, looking to instil the value of healthy eating into your young child, but you aren’t sure where to start. Here are a few things I learned about encouraging your toddler to be the healthy-eater you always dream about:

A little girl holding up a watermelon. #pickyeater #fussytoddler #fussyeaters #parents #parenthood #parentlife #lifewithkids

If you have a picky eater, it can make feeding them a healthy diet really difficult. We patience and persistence you can teach them to love healthy food.

1.Offer different fruits or vegetables at every meal.

This might sound like a bit of work, but I think you can simplify it to make it easy on yourself. When you head to the store, try to buy a variety of fruits and vegetables, but a smaller amount of each. That way you don’t risk everything rotting before you get around to eating it.

Related: How to Stop Kids Preferring Snacks to Regular Meals

After stocking up, try offering different fruits and vegetables throughout the day. The more variety toddlers are exposed to the more likely they will discover something they love. When I tried this with my son, I learned that he doesn’t care for kiwi, but will gobble cherry tomatoes like candy.

2. Even if they don’t like it, keep trying.

It can take up to 10-15 times of trying a food before acquiring a taste for it. So even if your toddler doesn’t like a food, keep it in the rotation anyway and see what happens. My son is like this with any green vegetable. He is very suspicious of them. I’m not sure if it is the colour or texture, but he simply doesn’t care for them. I keep trying anyway. Some days he likes them; others, not so much.

3. It’s okay not to offer dessert.

We are pretty healthy overall in our house, so I don’t know why I always feel compelled to offer my toddler a treat after meals. What is it about food that makes us want to use it as a reward? So I’m still working on this one myself, but you don’t have to offer dessert after a meal. Actually, you don’t have to offer it at all, ever. I’m working on this one.

4. Prepare foods different ways.

Sometimes it’s really just a texture issue, rather than a flavour issue. My toddler doesn’t like baked fish, but he loves fish cakes. Similarly with potatoes, he won’t eat them mashed, but he will enjoy them roasted. Try a variety of flavours, spices and textures to see what works well for you kids.

Two toddlers helping prepare a salad in the kitchen. #pickyeater #fussytoddler #fussyeaters #parents #parenthood #parentlife #lifewithkids

Meals are sometimes more fun if toddlers have something to dip food into. Maybe it helps them feel more independent? Or maybe they like it because it’s easy to master? Either way, you can create a healthy dipping sauce by combining Greek yogurt with some seasonings or by making a homemade ketchup or mayonnaise. Store bought is 100 percent fine too!

6. Blend it in.

Okay, this isn’t my favourite option because I want to encourage my toddler to eat the vegetable and fruit in its natural form, sans puree. However if you are really having issues, you can try to steam and puree the vegetable, followed by mixing it into your dish. I do this from time to time just to get more greens in my son, since that is the area of most resistance. Many days we also offer a spinach smoothie as a snack after nap time.

Related: The Secret to Combining Kids’ Treats and Healthy Eating

7. Set them up for success.

One of the things that was sending us into troubled waters with picky eating was offering food or drink too close to mealtime. Mealtime came around and our toddler wasn’t hungry for anything except crackers or toast. Set your kids up for success by minimising snacks for 1-2 hours before mealtime.

8. Save the drinks for later in the meal.

Sometimes in order to get a toddler to enjoy healthy foods they have to be fairly hungry. If you offer milk at the beginning of the meal, it can quell the hunger enough to allow them to turn good food away. We try our hardest to save milk for the middle or end of the meal. It’s not always possible, but it is another option to try. Most toddlers need about 480 millilitres or 16 ounces of whole milk per day. (That’s diary in total, so that can be cheese, yoghurt or soy milk.) Use this as a gauge to ensure your toddler is getting enough milk in balance with other healthy foods. (If you want to know more about how much dairy your children should get, check out MyPlate.gov.)

A little boy smiling while eating his bowl of breakfast. #pickyeater #fussytoddler #fussyeaters #parents #parenthood #parentlife #lifewithkids

9. Don’t be a short order cook.

It’s easy to feel compelled to offer a default favourite food after your toddler rejects healthy foods. Eventually toddlers will get hungry enough and eat what is offered if you are being reasonable. This simply means if you are offering your toddler a good variety of healthy foods that taste good, you should feel confident not offering crackers and juice if he rejects a meal.

10. Allow them to help you cook.

If your toddler is able to assist you with the cooking process, they may be more inclined to eat the meal. My son loves to help stir or mix things in a bowl. He also loves dumping ingredients into a bowl for me. It’s messy and it takes more time, but this is a great way to help children learn about cooking and enjoying food from a young age.

11. Don't pressure them

I know that it's really tempting to tell your children that they have to eat their peas, or to take "just one more bite". But a bad experience can put them back in terms of accepting in a food. It won't help them truly like the food if they eat it because they are forced to. It's really difficult not to pressure your kids, but it's really important too.

12. Be consistent and keep plugging along over time.

Getting a toddler to break picky eating habits takes lots of diligence over time. We’ve enjoyed quite a bit of progress during the past few months, and it is our hope that over time things will continue to get even better. Consistency is key when it comes to any aspect of parenting kids, so we are plugging along and sticking to our plan.

Related: How to Deal With Challenging Behaviour at the Table

A little girl eating breakfast. #pickyeater #fussytoddler #fussyeaters #parents #parenthood #parentlife #lifewithkids

Lauren from The Military Wife and Mom

Lauren Tamm Bio Picture

Lauren Tamm is a mother, military spouse, freelance writer, and the author of TheMilitaryWifeandMom.com. She is passionate about practical parenting, enjoying motherhood and navigating military life. She welcomes you to connect with her via her blog, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest