Food for Finicky Toddler

Updated on February 11, 2008
A.F. asks from Groton, MA
15 answers

I have a 4 year old and a 1 1/2 year old. Lately it is a battle to get my 1 1/2 year old to eat anything and all my 4 year old wants is PB & J. I am having a hard time finding things for them to eat, especially for breakfast and lunch. They don't like eggs, cold cuts, pork, plain chicken breast, my 1 1/2 year old doesn't like grilled cheese, etc. etc. etc. PLEASE! Does anyone have any ideas for healthy things I can make for breakfast and lunch? Even dinner suggestions would be welcomed!!! I am completely at a loss for ideas and running out of patience.

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R.B.

answers from Boston on

I found if they are hungry they will eat. Keep trying the food you want them to eat. children and babies will try and see how much they can get away with. They are not going to let them selves starve. I promise.

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K.T.

answers from Springfield on

A.
Both of my girls seem to like many things but recently the eldest has decided she doesn't like lots of things (some control issues!) and I have had to be a bit more creative on how I present foods to her. My mom recently got me some popsicle molds from Tupperware (we had them when we were kids), she used to give us popsicles made from PLAIN yogurt and OJ and I remember loving them. I started making them for my kids and they too love them (and even my most finicky nephew who won't eat anything but chicken nuggets and hot dogs). They have no idea that they are good for them- they like them because they are tasty, cold and if you add food coloring, you can make them into lots of colors (ok and the mickey mouse tupperware recently added to the stick is what drew my 5 yo nephew to them when perusing my freezer). A breakfast idea might be to make a smoothie the night before (blend plain yogurt, juice and fresh or frozen fruit), pour those into the popsicle molds and voila- a healthy frozen breakfast. My 2.5 yo loves to "make" them with me and choose a color. My 10 month old loves them and they are great for teething.

Another way I have found to get the elder to eat is to make soup. She loves soups- chicken noodle, chicken rice, matzo ball and miso (with rice noodles and lots of tofu). Have you tried soups out? The canned stuff is so high in salt so I try to make them myself. I get the best results when she helps me to make them.
Good luck!

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P.S.

answers from Springfield on

It's difficult but try not to stress it too much. I haven't yet seen a child that age starve themselves. They will end up getting most of their nutrients if you look at their weekly food intake as opposed to each meal. I found that the more you make it an issue, the bigger the struggle will be. I think all kids go through stages of only wanting to eat certain things at certain times. Eating PB&J 4 weeks in row won't harm them but probably drives some parents crazy when the stage lasts longer than a few days. There are several well illustrated healthy food magazines out there. You could take a trip to the local library and have your kids pick a few recipes to try. They may be more willing to eat it if they get to put on the chef hat and apron and serve it with all the fanfare.

Do your kids like to prepare food with you? Perhaps they will enjoy making healthy muffins and cutting up fruit for breakfast. Banana bread and carrot muffins are favorites here (slathered with nut butter) How about blender shakes? You can use a variety of fruits, sprinkle wheat germ for added nutrition and use either soft tofu, milk or yogurt as a base.

Your little one doesn't like grilled cheese but what about quesadillas? You could sneak in some small pieces of chicken or tofu for protein. We buy bulk grains and make old fashioned rolled oats for breakfast, the kids sprinkle granola or pecans and sliced fruit on top. We like other grains for breakfast too like: oat groats, Farina, Cream of Wheat. You can mix those with eggs and bake it. Also, sweet potatoes make a great complete meal. Bake a few up and serve one for breakfast warmed up. I don't even add anything on top. It's great crunchy on the outside and warm on the inside especially in colder weather.

You could do a tofu stir fry with veggies. use extra firm tofu. Do they like beans? Mine kiddos love black bean burritos with different veggies and cheddar cheese.
Even if they don't like something the first time, keep trying. I have read several times that it takes kids 21 times of trying the same food before really liking it. Good luck.

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L.J.

answers from Boston on

I have the same problem. My 4-1/2 y.o. daughter won't eat meat unless it's from MacDonalds! She doesn't eat eggs, pasta, hot dogs, ham, etc. She will eat tuna fish believe it or not. She lives on PB&J. If I cook a dinner and she won't eat it she just doesn't eat dinner. I have given up making different meals. She would rather eat her broccoli than eat roasted chicken! At 1-1/2 is a bit different. Ask your pediatrician about it. I also hide veg. in her pancakes, waffles. I cook a sweet potato, mash it, add butter and a bit of brown sugar and then mix it into the pancake batter. You can do it with zucchini as well. How about a smoothie? I know I am not much help but I do know what you are going through.

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J.C.

answers from Barnstable on

Hi A.-
I have two girls the same ages and have similar difficulties. My four year old loves PB and J and sometimes eats it for breakfast. I have gotten her to eat toast with butter and cinamon sugar, chocolate chip muffin bites, pancakes, yogurt and waffles. For lunch, its lots of PB and J, mac and cheese (you can do organic), chicken nuggets, grilled cheese. Dinners are similar to lunch. It is definitely hard to get them to eat but i figure anything is better than nothing.

Good luck!

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J.M.

answers from Providence on

for christmas my husband got me the cookbook, "deceptively delicious" by jerry seinfeld's wife (can't remember name). It's cooking for kids and it's fantastic. basically your steaming and pureeing vegetables like butternut squash (which you can mix into mac and cheese), cauliflower (which can be thrown into scrambled eggs and tuna), carrot (throw into hamburers), etc...

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K.G.

answers from Boston on

I know this sounds Health-nutish.. Eliminate all sugar, kids prefer this nutritionally empty energy. Keep foods whole and simple; whole peas, canned chickpeas, cubes of cheese, apples and nut butter. Don't be afraid to hold out for a couple days, they will come around when hungry. no sugars. Mimi

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F.H.

answers from Boston on

1. My 3 children loved chicken cutlets. Thin boneless breast, dip in egg and breadcrumbs then fry in olive oil. Cut in little finger sized strips. I realize the frying part is not the first choice, but they liked it and this opened the door to chicken prepared in other ways.

2. Invite the children to help prepare foods, they often like to eat what they make.

3. Prepare finger foods (little slices of cheese, crackers, cut up fruit, a few raisins, little Peanut butter and jelly sandwich slices, cheerios, etc) put all in the child's own special box in the refridgerator and allow them to choose what is desired for lunch and snacks from the box. Put a chart on the refridg and give a sticker when half the box is finished and two stickers when the whole box is finished.

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L.M.

answers from Barnstable on

Is it a blanket "I don't like it" or is there perhaps a reason behind it (texture/taste)?
If it is taste/texture you could try making it differently (if you have always done scrambled eggs, try them fried or hard boiled, if they don't like the coldcuts, what if they are warmed and squished with a toasty machine). I babysat long ago for some kids who wouldn't eat fresh apples, but if I heated them up and sprinked cinnamon (just cinnamon, no sugar) on them they would gobble down 2-3. A slight change in taste from spices can come in handy! I added some other menu suggestions at the bottom.
For the 4 yr old, perhaps gaining ownership in the food by helping prep would encourage trying new things since she made it (tossing a salad, making a pizza together, stirring the soup)
In the case of the toddler, he may have picked up his 'dislike' for certain foods because he is mimicking big sister...only you can suss this one out!
If no reason in particular, though not always the popular route, you could try the school of hard knocks..."this is what is for dinner. sit here while we eat what is on the table. If you want to be excused so be it, but no food till next meal" or 'have to try one bite of everything before you can be excused and no dessert'(cannot cave and allow extra snacking inbetween or treats). My bro and sis-in law utilize this method with great success on their brood of 4. Their pickiest is now 6 and he puts up quite a fight when he 'doesn't like', but he knows they are serious and after enough time sitting at the table watching everyone eat, knowing he will miss out on dessert and nothing till next meal he will cave and start to pick at what is on his plate. (He often suffers from the instant dislike of something he has never tried.) This one is hard on you and requires stamina on your part to inforce it. It is not a viable choice if your child is underweight. But if child is healthy missing A meal isn't going to hurt her. Either way, would be good to speak to your pediatrician.

menu ideas:
breakfast- cherrios with real fresh fruit
oatmeal
bagel or english muffin sandwich
cream of wheat
pancakes/waffles/crepes
any fresh fruit you can get in them...grapes, berries, bananas, oranges, apples

lunch/dinner
try subbing sliced banana instead of the jelly into the peanut butter sandwich

beef and veggies with pasta or rice or mashed potatos
hamburgers with celery and carrot stick sides
chicken cutlets with spagetti
breaded chicken cutlet sandwiches
scalloped potatos with herbed chicken on top
beef stirfry (with or without rice)
Salad
wrap sandwiches (tortilla shell with lettuce dressing and some kind of meat---diced ham, grilled chicken, cut up lunchmeat)
Soup!!
Pizza (add veggies/meats of your choice)
tacos

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L.L.

answers from Boston on

Hi A.,
I am told the cookbook by Jessica Seinfeld called Deceptively Delicious is supposed to have great, fun recipes for kids who are picky eaters which show you how to mix healthy ingredients in so they never taste them. Maybe try making fun shakes in a blender. Vitamins (PolyViSol) are a good idea to give for those finicky eaters. Hope this helps.
Good luck!

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A.M.

answers from Boston on

Hi A. -
first major rule... don't Force a kid to eat or not eat...no matter what.... it becomes a control over the body thing, and you end up with serious body image, control, emotional eating issues, etc.

Next - get rid of the fast food, boxed food, frozen food garbage. It's all high in what's bad for you, low in what you need. The woman who says her daughter won't eat meat unless it comes from McDonalds? Too much McDonalds going on there then. Also get rid of the soda pops and for Pete's sake, don't feed your kids 'diet' anything!

Then - offer fresh veggies and fruits, multi-grain breads, plain eggs (scrambled or hard boiled), juices, etc. My kids didn't grow up with fast food, and they've always preferred plain food over processed, sugared, etc. I have one that will eat raw carrots for dinner, but not steamed...whatever, right? The raw ones have more nutrition in them anyway. You'll be surprised how much cheaper and easier it is to cook 'close to the ground' (as unprocessed as possible)

Finally, if they're not hungry, don't make them eat... they'll eat when they get hungry enough - they won't starve themselves to death - and when they do eat, it will be good food. Don't worry if they go through stages of eating hardly anything to devouring everything in site and asking for more...if you watch, that cycle will correspond to their growth stages and they're simply in tune with their bodies.

Let them learn to eat only when they're actually hungry and quit eating when they're not hungry any more (vs. eating until they're full)

If we adults could learn to do this, the "Amazing Diet! industry would wither and die on the vine. LOL

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B.P.

answers from Boston on

This link has alot of useful info. It is designed for daycare provider requirements but parents can learn from it also.
http://teamnutrition.usda.gov/Resources/buildingblocks.html
Chapter 2 is sizes and componnets for a meal.
When I was a daycare provider a nutritionist old us :
"A child will not let themself starve. Your job is to offer well balanced meals, the child's job is to eat or not. Provided they have been given well balanced meals at every meal you would find that by the end of a week they will have eaten all the components nutrionally needed in a week."
As a provider I always requested they try one penny size bite of everything offered. If they didn't like it they did not have to eat it. Nutritionists say it takes 6-12 exposures to a new food before a child decides on like/dislike. Also a childs tastes are always changing. What they loved at 18 mos they may despise at 2yr and enjoy again at 4 coupled whether it is actually in fact the taste they don't like vs the texture/smell/look.
Then you can run in to other issues: for instance 5-6 yr olds are famous for not wanting one food to touch another. Example: Shepherd's Pie, they may like ground beef, corn and mashed potaotes separately but put them together in the casserole...forget it..won't touch it. They may like noodles and peas and tuna, but put them in a casserole and it won't go past the lips!
It is very important to eat together at the same table at the same time as a family. If children see you enjoying the same food you're asking them to eat they are more tempted to accept it. Also pay attention to empty calories such as juice. We get lulled in to the fact 100% juice is good for kids. It is, but with limitations. If they are drinking juice all day they will not be hungry. Four ounces of juice is the allowance for an entire day for a 6yr old! Offer water instead between meals.
Read thru the link I offered it really is a wealth of information. Prepare balanced meals and don't cater to likes/dislikes. Do healthy snacks. There are a ton of recipes available online for family meal planning. Good luck

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E.M.

answers from Portland on

There have been some great suggestions for finicky toddlers! The only thing I might add is you could
-try switching to cashew butter or sunflower seed butter and apple butter or slivers of apples for a little variety in the PB&J
-try giving them "dippers" my daughter likes fresh and raw fruits and veggies when I give her something to dip them in - like sunny butter, dressing, guacamole, melted cheese, sour cream, even baby food (the pureed, jarred food)...
-I liked the book Super Baby Food for inspiration

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A.H.

answers from Portland on

Hi,
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I would love to talk to you more about it, if you are interested. Reliv offers superb nutrition for adults too and other functional formulas for weight loss, arthritis, heart health, womens needs, etc.

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Independent Reliv Distributor
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B.T.

answers from Boston on

Hi A.,
I have a 17 month old. He likes having cinnamon toast and bananas for breakfast. Also he eats Earths Best Bars they come in Strawberry or apple. They are like a breakfast bar type thing. He likes those alot. Yogert is also another one that he really enjoys. Waffles or pancakes are good too.
I have a harder time with my 6 year old. He doesn't seem to want to try anything different!! He would like to eat mac n cheese morning, noon and night!!
Good Luck!

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