18 answers

Toddler Will NOT Try New Foods, Mealtime Discipline?

OK this question is for the mamas who have picky eaters, I have a very headstrong daughter who we have always had issues with her eating. We are past many of them and we do feel fine with the AMOUNT of food she is eating, we are just frustrated because she will not TRY new foods, not even one bite of most all new foods (especially "combined" foods like pasta & sauce, etc). We have tried just putting a new food on her plate over and over for 2 weeks and not making her eat it, and not making it a big deal and hoping she would get curious and try (didn't happen), and we've tried bribing with reading a book, etc if she tries a bite (which after much cajoling she will try it, but then cry and spit it out)

I am starting to wonder if I should start a sticker chart for every time she takes 3-5 bites of a new food, or rewarding her with a chocolate chip after her meal when takes a few bites of a new food. Any suggestions or tips? Is it a bad idea to do the chocolate chip thing? The good news is that the things she does eat are quite healthy. But, we'd really like her to expand on what she will eat and eat what we eat, but most things that we eat, she won't. Even a few things that she used to eat, but now she won't (grilled chicken, edamame). I'd like to try and tackle this issue before her baby sister gets older and starts modeling this behavior (the baby eats very well!)

Additionally, we have an issue with her getting up from the table CONSTANTLY while meals are going on. We have to remind and nag all the time. I was thinking of incorporating this into a sticker chart as well, getting a sticker each time she stays in her chair the whole time during a meal.

Has anyone tried this with success? Thanks!

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My two year old son is the same way with food. We started giving him the new V8 fusion juice since he wont eat veggies. Also, don't forget that two year olds don't have the capability to sit at the table for long periods of time like adults do. If she lasts 5 minutes at the table, that's been a successful dinner!

1 mom found this helpful

A lot of good advice here... we went through this too. We picked up and started reading green eggs and ham and then at dinner we made a game of saying try them try them you will see... you may like them... and then if she tried them we "would say would you eat them in a box?", etc.

In general I don't like the if you eat it you get something else because after a while she would say she was done or didn't like something just to skip right to the treat or sticker. So now we just have treats when we have had good meals or it is a special night - not necessarily associated with one food or another. Now at nearly 3.5 sometimes she will try things sometimes she won't... she actually usually does better if I put it on the spoon or fork and walk away or if I tell her she can spit it out if she doesn't like it but that she still has to eat the other 2 things on her plate (we always put 2 things we know she likes and 1 new). Unless it is leftovers night she eats what we eat no exceptions and she sits at the dinner table until she is done and once she gets down the meal is over - but generally we require potty and wash hands just before dinner and a "may I be excused" before getting down. Does this always work... no, she's three - but good habits and examples by all at the table help.
Good Luck and keep trying.

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An interesting physiological thing happens right around 2 years of age with nearly all children:

If their brain hasn't recognized a chemical signature as "food" BEFORE this magic window slams shut around the age of 2, their brain classifies it as a poison. How violently they react depends on the child (just as some adults could stomach eating dog poo if they had to, and others would be violently sick).

The good news: This only lasts for about a max of 3 years. Around the age of 5, you can feed them yakbutter tea, termites, or tuna salad...and they won't have that reaction.

The bad news: Any new food introduced over this time period will "register" as toxic for a period of 5-20 years.

(Remember, chem signature...so basil is basil is basil whether it's in pesto, dried, or fresh... or cillantro in chinese or mexican, or beef/pork/chicken/fish/goat/whatever.)

It's an evolutionary trait...typically the age of 2 is when children started being more mobile, and we all know how kids put everything under the sun in their mouths, and if it doesn't fit, they lick it. Those who had this response spit out toxic things, those who didn't ate the deadly berries.

So the very good news is that she eats enough. But the bad news is that you're going to either have to be patient... or resign yourself to fighting her body's natural response to being fed poison. Which is going to be aversion, and then fear/anger/loss of trust.

You can get creative, though. Start using the ingredients you know she likes, but just cook them in different ways. And start feeding baby sister everything under the sun from the age of 1-2. Everything you can think of. (Don't worry, you'll find you've forgotten a few things.) As long as you moderate the heat (caliente/spiciness) of food there's no reason not to feed the wee ones everything you eat, and very good reasons to do exactly that. But with big sis, you're going to have to be patient. She can't help it.

3 moms found this helpful

She is only 2.5, so I would say don't stress about it and continue to give her something you know she will eat along with whatever you and your husband are eating.

My daughter would not touch eggs or bacon and we always offered, but she would always decline. She FINALLY asked for some at breakfast after age 4.

On the other hand, she loved PB&J sandwiches, but at age 5 does not want to eat them anymore. She does like steak with A1 now though!!

I expect her tastes to continually change and try not to worry too much about it, otherwise it becomes a power struggle.

3 moms found this helpful

I had some thinking to do around my son's own eating and ended up asking myself this very simple question: Which is more important in the grand scheme of things-- that he enjoy his food and eating, or that he eat exactly what I want him to eat?

This made it pretty simple. Forgive my bias, but I am a person who is still living down some food aversions because of being forced to eat food I didn't want at the time. And for what it's worth, I've discovered as a parent that I am far more relaxed with my son about food than I ever thought I would be. But it's worked for us.

We all hear of friends whose children have a cultivated palate; fun to brag about, but very rare. In working with young children over the years, what I have seen is that they like what they like and if it's not something they do like, they don't usually want it near, or heaven forbid, ON their plate. Breads, rice and pasta with Parmesan or butter are usually accepted; sauces, not so universally. Sweet things are often favored. But the more complex flavors adults often enjoy take many of us years and years to work into.

In our house, I am pretty laid back about food. My son probably eats more stuff in the yogurt/cottage cheese area; loves cheeses, apples, bananas and grapes, the usual mac-n-cheese (again with the cheese!), almonds, dried fruit, breadsticks, the occasional whole grain cracker, and sometimes will venture a bit of salmon, soup, or pasta salad. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a hit too, as well as hard boiled eggs. Meal and snack foods look a lot alike, and I usually just put two choices out for him and let him at it. Apples and cheese, or eggs and pretzels...this is his speed.

I don't put a lot of new stuff on his plate and just let him ask us for a bite of ours when he's ready. This works better for us, and he can always have a serving of something if he's interested.And because of this, he's not hesitant to ask to try what we're having.

I am not a big fan of the One Bite Rule for two reasons: 1.As an adult, I would be very irate if I was told to take one bite of anything just to please someone else, so I have empathy for kids, and 2. I have seen more mealtimes than I care to recall end in tears and anger because of the negotiating that goes on with this sort of thing. "Just one bite and you can have..." It is truly painful to witness a child who just can't will themselves to try something that looks disgusting (to them) miss out on a dessert or another reward. And yes, most often it is the bribery that tends stymie the parent/child relationship.

If it were me, I'd leave the whole thing alone. Sticker charts just draw attention to the issue. Your daughter may also be responding to feelings that she can't explain or even be aware of, but it may be that she feels what/how she's eating is more important to you than She Herself is. Taking the pressure off can't hurt.

TWO Concrete ideas that have worked wonders for me and the families who have chosen to use them:

1. Snack boxes: Load up a plastic container with snacks you *know* she likes--just a few--and use food that will keep for the day. Then, when she says she's hungry, you can offer this to her and then let her choose what's in the box. This is a way for kids to eat without having to engage with their parents about WHAT to eat. Offer it whenever she's hungry between meals.

2. Earlier dinner/snack time: I swear this has been a lifesaver- offer a good snack when she's hungry around 4:30-5:30, not necessarily when dinner is ready. Then, at dinner time, when you and your husband are seated, let her come to the table and join you if she wants. Many kids need to eat before the adults do, and if her hunger is sated, she may be all the more pleasant if she does join you for supper. Then, feel free to offer her what you're having, and have a familiar option around too. Kids who aren't voraciously hungry do better in social situations, and it sounds like you would like dinner to be a social situation in your family.

It's very common for young children to pop on and off their chairs during a meal. (they tend to do this less in preschool or daycare, where other children are modeling the mealtime behaviors) This is in keeping with their having a short attention span, and many kids go through this phase around this age. If you want her to sit through a meal, consider offering some crayons and paper or another something to do. Asking a toddler/preschooler to sit through a full meal is huge...they can become bored and unpleasant. We let our son down to play when we can see that he's done eating, and this works for everyone. My husband and I enjoy our meal far more, and we know that as long as mealtimes are pleasant for everyone, we're okay.
(By the way, we rarely go out to dinner these days, as he's too active for a restaurant...when we do, it's not relaxing at all.)

If you can keep the eating enjoyable and low key, you'll find that in several years your daughter may be a person who appreciates a wide variety of foods. Of course, this may not happen until she's 20, but what's the rush? Just keep the house free of junk food and let her work through this on her own. Pushing our children often causes them to push back!

2 moms found this helpful

Just let her eat without pressure, give her a good multivitamin, and wait a few months then try again.

2 moms found this helpful

A lot of good advice here... we went through this too. We picked up and started reading green eggs and ham and then at dinner we made a game of saying try them try them you will see... you may like them... and then if she tried them we "would say would you eat them in a box?", etc.

In general I don't like the if you eat it you get something else because after a while she would say she was done or didn't like something just to skip right to the treat or sticker. So now we just have treats when we have had good meals or it is a special night - not necessarily associated with one food or another. Now at nearly 3.5 sometimes she will try things sometimes she won't... she actually usually does better if I put it on the spoon or fork and walk away or if I tell her she can spit it out if she doesn't like it but that she still has to eat the other 2 things on her plate (we always put 2 things we know she likes and 1 new). Unless it is leftovers night she eats what we eat no exceptions and she sits at the dinner table until she is done and once she gets down the meal is over - but generally we require potty and wash hands just before dinner and a "may I be excused" before getting down. Does this always work... no, she's three - but good habits and examples by all at the table help.
Good Luck and keep trying.

1 mom found this helpful

Your daughter's reluctance to try new foods is completely normal at her age. This could go on for the next month, or the next two or three years – every child is different. (She may even have very common sensory issues, in which texture, temperature and/or flavor actually cause her distress. Her crying suggests that possibility.)

I completely understand that you want your child to have a varied and healthy diet. And I will almost guarantee you that your insistence about getting her to eat other foods is actually making it harder for her to experiment freely. She is at a developmental stage where differentiating herself from her parents, and learning to discriminate and make choices for herself, is her "job."

You can help her take this large and necessary step in a positive way by sticking to what's important for her safety and general health. So restricting her food choices to those that are healthy is great. But you might be too close to the issue to notice that urging new foods on her is actually backfiring. Just having "try new foods" remain an issue at every meal, even if unspoken, is too forceful.

Please avoid bribery at all costs. Parents who try to "buy" their kids' cooperation are putting their authority at risk, and there will be times and issues in the future where your authority is terribly important. Meal "variety" during toddlerhood is truly not one of those important areas. And offering a sweet in exchange for a bite of healthy food sets a bad precedent.

Not to scare you, but there's plenty of research establishing that over-controlling parenting is a causative factor in the development of eating disorders later in life, especially for girls. It's ironic that parents trying to get their kids to eat more can end up contributing to anorexia, but it can happen.

Here's a story that might comfort you a bit; neighbors of ours had a son who simply would not eat vegetables as a toddler. They decided to simply stop serving him veggies unless he asked. A few years later he was asking for salads as his main course for meals.

Incidentally, trying to leave the table constantly at that age is also normal. These are little kids, and in the grand scheme of things, they are active, curious, and easily distracted. Expecting young children to sit at a boring (and perhaps stressful) table for 30-40 minutes is a relatively new development in human social evolution. Expecting persons with tiny stomachs to eat large meals is less healthy than more frequent, smaller meals. Try to see things a little more from her shoes. She'll get to be a better mealtime participant gradually, but probably not for the next year or two.

1 mom found this helpful

We had this problem - esp. with our older daughter. Bribery (with McD toys, cookies, treats) didn't work because it kept escalating to where she wanted more and more for the same task. She was so small (<5% on growth charts) I really didn't want her to miss out on calories. BUT she still wasn't eating enough of the foods I considered essential for health and she would turn down good food at a meal knowing she could get an oatmeal raisin cookie or other treat when we went out and she said she was hungry.
The doctor suggested 2 things:
1) boosting the calorie intake of foods she would eat. Strips of Eggo waffles could be buttered and dipped in syrup; Half-n-half in her milk and on her cereal; extra cheese to her mac-n-cheese, etc.
2) NO between meal snacks or treats if she didn't eat a reasonable amount at a meal
So if she gets up from the table, calmly give her 2 or 3 chances to come back to eat with a warning of no other food until the next mealtime, and then PUT THE FOOD AWAY AND NOTHING TO EAT UNTIL the next mealtime -- only milk or water between meals which she has to drink sitting down. No carrying sippy cups all over the house, etc.
When our daughter would whine between meals we'd say "nothing until dinner" or "you didn't eat your good food, so you don't get dessert or snacks but you can have some water or milk if you need something". I was amazed at how fast/well this worked, especially with 2 kids "your sister can have a cookie because she ate all her mac-n-cheese and apple at lunch and you can't because you didn't". Continue to offer new foods along with old ones at meals, and eventually she'll try something. My daughter also caved into peer pressure eating with friends - if Cindy got Spaghetti-o's or grilled cheese, or ham on crackers, she wanted to have them too - even though she had previously turned such things down otherwise.
Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful

HI E.,

Just keep at it. My adventurous eater decided to stop eating all meat for 5-6 months. It was awful and I worried about his fruit, yogurt and pasta diet. I finally just started a "tough" route reminding myself that my mother never let me decide what was for dinner we just ate what was available and so I started doing the same thing. It took about 2 weeks but he's eating a variety of foods again and I am thrilled. It could have been coinsidence but it doesn't seem that way to me. It cured other things too like the "I want...yogurt, no, oatmeal, no, cereal, no, french toast, no, eggs" debate for breakfast too. I just make breakfast, put it on the table and shout (as excited as possible without being "weird") breakfast!! And he runs over saying, YEAH, Breakfast!

Regarding the sitting at the table - we started by removing tempting/fun items and just close his bedroom door. If he gets down and looks around for fun we remind him that it's dinner time and we can play after dinner. If he says he's ready now, we tell him WE are still eating then have conversations with each other leaving him out. 9 out of 10 times he gets back up at the table because it's boring down there by yourself. The other time I attribute to not really being hungry.

I hope this helps and good luck! I hate eating problems! Almost as much as sleep problems!

Best,
T.

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