Toddler Eating Ideas

Updated on February 10, 2010
A.P. asks from Barnegat, NJ
15 answers

I need ideas on ways to get my almost 3yr old to try new foods. He refuses to try anything new. He just wants to stick to his few 'staple' foods. Any ideas??? What he eats: breakfast foods: pancakes, waffles, french toast, any fruit, yogurt, Lunch/dinner: PB&J or grilled cheese (or a plain cheese) sandwich. Again, he'll eat almost any fruit and loves yogurt.

Just a note: We tried the whole, you eat what we eat bit and he didn't eat anything but yogurt for 3 wks. He lost a lot of weight and we're not sure we're ready to try that again.

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answers from New York on

I've tried it all. My daughter was picky from the start and actually lost weight between 18 and 30 months because she would rather starve than eat what I served her. The doctor started out saying "No toddler will starve themselves, they will eat enough eventually" to "Get some calories in that kid, no matter where they come from." As a baby if I tried to feed her one thing that she didn't want, then the whole meal was called off - she would eat nothing else. I think the problem with them refusing dinner is that their little stomachs shrink even smaller so they eat less at breakfast, creating a cycle of not eating. Bribes don't work with her and she has the willpower to put herself in the hospital from not eating. So, for a while I would sometimes count apples as a vegetable just to get food into her and watch for signs that she was growing out of it. We have been more successful with new foods in the last year and I expect that will improve even more as she gets older. The less issue you make out of food, the easier it will become.

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answers from Jacksonville on

What are his few "staple" foods? For mac & cheese, I blend spinach, peas, carrots with the sauce to disguise it. Sometimes how it looks might discourage them, so put fun faces on your bread, or even try letting him help prepare it. They get some pleasure in eating it once they know they played a part.

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answers from New York on

My son is the same way! Our pediatrician assures me it is completely normal, especially with boys. He said not to make it an issue. I let my son choose what to have for breakfast and lunch, as well as snacks (but offer all healthy options). So he really doesn't do too badly most of the time. And I let him mix it up. If he wants whole wheat pretzels, string cheese and grapes for breakfast, why not? Then, for dinner, I either give him leftovers of something he'll like, or he can have cereal. 9 times out of 10 (actually almost 10 out of 10) he will not eat what we're eating, but I always put a tiny bit on his plate anyway. I also try to put some sort of fruit on his plate, so at least he will eat that. And like I said, he has the cereal option (again, a healthy cereal). That is what works for us. Good luck!

P.S. For us, a trip to my sister's house always helps--my son will suddenly want to eat whatever it is his cousins are eating!!!



answers from Tulsa on

"Idiots Guide to Feeding Your Baby and Toddler"
"Baby and Toddler Meals for Idiots"

Both lots of fun reading and very good support with tons of recipe ideas.



answers from Albany on

All kids go through a picky stage, but for the most part it is a control battle, not that they really don't like the foods. Also, there are so many different foods, and it often takes up to 15 times seeing a particular food for a child to even try it. It sounds like you did give in by letting him eat the yogurt for dinner, once he learned that you would let him have that, he knew he could hold out for it....
Since your child eats relatively healthy breakfasts and lunch, let him make the choice (within reason) of what he wants for breakfast and lunch (ie. fruit and waffles for breakfast, grilled cheese and yogurt for lunch). This way you know he is getting the nutrition he needs for those two meals (remember, most toddlers generally only eat 2 decent meals per day). At dinner time, you are not a short order cook. He eats what you are eating or nothing at all... my kids aren't perfect eaters by any means, but they usually can find atleast one part of the dinner meal that they like. My daughter loves green veggies (yes cooked spinich) but isn't much into casseroles and will only eat red sauce on pizza.... my son loves Sloppy Joe, Pasta with meat sauce etc., but won't touch most veggies yet (except baby food). So, sometimes my daughter just eats veggies, and my son will eat the meat, but atleast I am not making a separate meal and they have learned that they do not have the control to dictate what is for dinner. I put a little bit of each thing we are having on their plates and serve it. They either find something they are willing to eat, or go hungry (which they really aren't that hungry, assuming they ate other meals that day). Although we don't make separate meals, we will allow room for flexibility. For example, my daughter does not like the sauce on sloppy joe, so after I cook the meat, I take a little out for her before I put the seasoning in.... when we make tacos, I let her make them without meat, just cheese and tomoatoes.... I also let her help prepare foods sometimes. The other thing my kids like to do is dip things... they especially like sour cream and my son loves ketchup. You can make other types of sandwiches (maybe turkey?) and use fun shaped cookie cutters to make them into shapes.
Best of luck, I know it isn't easy. Just remember to stay calm and consistant.... don't let him control you... unless there is a medical reason, it is not unreasonable to expect that your child eat something like rice, pasta, chicken or carrots for dinner...



answers from New York on

I would start slowly by making slight changes to what he knows, such as making a rilled cheese with the addition of something in it - such as a veggie mixed in. Make a pancake or waffle sandwich or stuffed french toast. Try yam or carrot pancakes or yogurt marinated chicken tenders. Also having him help you to prepare these things may get him interested. Bagel pizzas with toppings he gets to pick? Soup or stew that he can help stir? Yogurt parfait with granola or cereal mixed in.



answers from New York on

Two things, I was an eater like your son and turned in to a foody in my late teens.

But we are trying to do things differently with our kids. If he ate yogurt for 3 weeks, then he wasn't just eating what you eat. I find with my three that I have to choose my battles and plan for them and follow through on them. Kids know where the weakness is in the armor. He's going to remember that you are fearful of him losing weight and play it for all it's worth.

So, here is what has worked. I serve veggies first at dinner. Once veggies are eaten, they get the main course (something they love). No crying, whining, nothing changes that course. There's no cajoling, pleading, reasoning - nor is there anger or yelling. "First veggies, then yogurt." Kids realize they will not die (okay, avoid cooked spinach - that's a gag reflex waiting to happen). It's a good experience.

If they say, "I'm not hungry." The reply is, "Veggies don't make you full; they just make you fast and strong." If they still won't eat it, reply, "That's fine. You will have it for breakfast." Smile. Wash dishes - busy yourself nearby, but not hovering; you are the boss (not bossy, just rightfully and calmly in control of the situation). It may take a few days, but it will work. He'll be happier and healthier.

All the best.



answers from New York on

I agree with PO. Let your little one help make their food and they are more likely to eat it. I let my daughter make her own English Muffin pizzas. Whole Wheat EMs, she put the sauce and cheese on, I put it in the oven. She ate the whole thing. Also, helping to set the table helps get her ready to sit down and eat.



answers from Chicago on

Offer dipping sauces to meat, or even add ketchup. My daughter (only 15mo.) did not want ham last night, but when I gave her ketchup to dip it in, she ate it all up! Tell him he needs to eat a good dinner in order to grow while he's sleeping. I use this line on my 3 1/2 yr. old all the time & it seems to help. You can blend fruits / veggies & make a smoothie. I have a toddler cookbook (the one by Jerry Seinfeld's wife), but honestly haven't tried anything in it yet...I know, shameful. Try getting creative...get cookie cutters & cut the food into a shape of something fun.



answers from New York on

I save the "you eat what we eat" thing for dinner. My daughter always eats breakfast, snacks and lunch. Just like your son... she has staple food she eats.

Oatmeal or cereal for breakfast. PB & J or grilled cheese for lunch. Fruit for snacks.

At least I know she won't starve and she gets her nutrients.

That way, at dinner, she eats what we eat and if she doesn't want it she can go hungry. I can sometimes bribe her to try meat by giving her ketchup to dip it in. she'll usually try some meatloaf that way, but other meats, forget it!

I don't know what the future holds for her pickiness, but I feel like I am doing the right thing.

So anyway, my advice is... don't cater to him for dinner. You can do it the other meals so you know he'll stay healthy. But once dinner comes, he eats what you eat or he gets nothing at all. Don't give him any snacks or treats after dinner either. Save his food and offer him his dinner again if he says he's hungry.



answers from Dallas on

Unfortunately, I think the 3's is when they start a picky stage. My daughter, who previously ate whatever is now picking and choosing on a constant basis. Sometimes she will eat something and the next day she won't touch it. I think with her it is a power thing. For example, she loves meat. However, the other day she wanted a sandwich with no meat.....bread with mustard, mayo, and ketchup. Another day she wanted the "crust" off her waffle.



answers from New York on

Have you tried mixing in more nutrients into the things he already eats? I mash sweet potatoes into the eggs for french toast, puree spinach into scrambled eggs to make green eggs, etc... That might be a start. I've also noticed that it helps if I just put the food down. My daughter will try/eat more if I'm not hovering or making a big deal of it. She also tends to eat more if she helps prepare her food. Good luck!



answers from Boston on

We find bribery works in our house. My 5 year old will try anything I put on his plate if I tell him I'll give him 1 m&m. I know that's not the best solution, but once he likes it he eats it no problem. And if he doesn't like it we're fine with it, at least he tried it. My 3 year old we haven't figured out what works for her yet. Yogurt, almonds and all fruit and pancakes are her staples. My mother keeps telling me she'll do better when she's older, just as long as she's getting the nutrients she needs (which she is). But here's a thought a friend of mine did when her youngest hit 3, I'm getting ready to try it, just haven't done it yet. She started making one dinner (i make 2) and the kids had to try the dinner that she was serving for her and her husband at least 1 bite. If they took the bite and decided they didn't like it, then she praised them for trying it and gave them a bowl of cereal. They are now 5 and 7 and the best eaters!



answers from New York on

We used "new food adventures". Every one was worth a quarter. If she didn't like it, she didn't have to eat it. She will eat things that even I will not. Granted, now at 10, we're up to $1 but she is not picky. Good luck!



answers from Indianapolis on

We really don't give our child the choice of what they're going to have most of the time - or we may have 3 options we're considering and let them choose which is best.

Our rule is that they have to try everything. 3 is the age where they are becoming more picky, but my believe, as the mom, is that they need to follow our lead and not set the rules themselves.

Last night we had lasagna and broccoli (both ate the broccoli before the pasta).
Our kids love quesadillas, tacos, any kind of pasta. Recently, our 3.5 year old has started to like putting together his own cheese, ham and crackers. I just put them on the plate, and he assembles them himself.

When they're being really picky, we give them a set quantity of something on their plate. Last night, it was 3 more bites of lasagna before they could be excused. Over the weekend, they both had to eat 1/2 their nuggets they said they wanted.

We've always fed them what we're eating and not catered to their pickiness. Sometimes it backfires, but most of the time it goes over pretty well. We have to offer "dip" a lot - ranch dressing, ketchup, etc.

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