Very Picky 2.5 Year Old

Updated on January 27, 2010
T.L. asks from Pleasant Hill, CA
17 answers

My 2.5 year old is an EXTREMELY picky eater. I try to intoduce new foods to her but find that I'm so concerned with her getting nutrients that I focus on the few things I know she will eat: all nuts, all fruits, pancakes, waffles, peanut butter, bacon, oatmeal, crackers, chicken nuggets and fries. Here is my issue: her new sister was born 7 weeks ago and the food issue is now amplified because it's a source of stress for us all and she recognizes this as a form of extra attention. My husband, mother and I often bribe, distract and offer many alternatives when we see she isn't eating. Oftentimes a meal will last over an hour and end in us actually feeding her. When I read answers for similar issues, I realize we are doing all the wrong things. I'm so frustrated and guilt ridden. I need to course correct while I am home on maternity leave and can focus my energy on trying to help her and begin to correct our mistakes. She's 28 lbs and our ped doesn't seem to be concerned as long as she takes her vitamins. But my concern is more of the behavior we have fostered and established. How do I undo this without being too exteme?

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answers from San Francisco on

I would have been thrilled if my picky eater would have eaten such a variety of foods at that age. If you feed her foods she likes, but also slowly enlarge her repertoire, she'll eventually start eating more. Offer at least one thing you know she'll eat as part of each meal you make (so you're not making special meals just for her), and stop worrying. She'll be fine. My picky eater is almost 14 - we both lived through it!

Good luck!

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answers from San Francisco on

Actually, she sounds like she has a pretty good diet to me, a little high on salt, but otherwise okay. Don't worry about the nutrients, she'll be okay in the long run, as long as you keep her away from junk food.

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answers from San Francisco on

I don't see why you're so stressed (?) Sounds like quite a healthy variety for a toddler, you're lucky. Keep offering new foods but relax, let her eat what she likes (would you want someone forcing foods on you for over an hour?!) She's obviously getting what she needs. Enjoy your time at home with the new baby. In a world of big problems this is small: don't sweat the small stuff! :)

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answers from San Francisco on

At 2.5 yrs she's old enough for you to sit down w/her & have a chat about your expectations of meal times. Keep it short, very simple, using few words & don't over-explain. I agree w/only offering her 2 choices at meal times but then what she chooses is what she eats & let her know that's the deal. If she doesn't eat it, then that's the end of the meal. Stop w/all the bribing etc cuz you're placing too much attention on this which you know. Don't get angry just remain calm & if she doesn't eat it, then meal time is over. She will not starve. In between meals, make sure you aren't offering a lot of empty calorie foods or false fillers, like lotsa juice & sweets. Do not give in. The key here, as w/most things in parenting, is to stay consistent. Make sure your husband is on board as well. She'll learn soon enough that you mean business & you won't back down. Best of luck & stay strong!

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answers from San Francisco on

First of all, relax. Your daughters are very lucky to have a caring, concerned mother. And you are correct to deal with this now while you are home. I have three kids, and my middle was my picky eater.

Picky eaters can happen for many reasons, but it sounds like your daugther is using food as a control mechanism. Her attention-getting strategy is working, so she will keep doing it until you break the cycle. But do not bribe her -- it will give food too much emotional value in the future.

So here are some ideas:
1. The "this is what's for dinner." approach. Put your daughters plate in front of her. Smile and tell her "this is what's for dinner".

IMPORTANT: Deliver this line calmly and quietly without shouting, screaming, or dirty looks. Stay calm at all times!

DO make sure the meal has a variety of tastes, textures and colors so there are appropriate choices on the plate. If she doesn't want to eat it in a reasonable amount of time, say 20 minutes, then the meal is over. The plate leaves the table, she is excused from dinner.

It is entirely the choice of your daughter whether or not she eats the meal. Do not offer another alternative. Do not fix her a snack later. There is no food until the next meal.

She won't starve -- I'm assuming she has no food allergies. You might feel bad, but hang in there. I have a picky eater. It took two meals of doing this and about 24 hours of misery at our house for this to work. That smile and calm demeanor was pasted on my face for 24 hours. I think I won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Picky Eater Situation. But it worked.

2. Going forward, only introduce one new food at a time. Ask her to try it. If she does, great. If she doesn't, don't worry. Keep introducing the new food. After a few times, she will realize that this is part of the meal, and she will try it. As with my middle daughter, it may take up to 15 times, but it will happen.

3. Give her some "control". Take her to the grocery store and let her pick some things to try (obviously, healthy choices.) Let her help in the kitchen as appropriate. Washing the fruit and vegetables, serving the food onto her plate. Give her two healthy food choices and let her pick one. This will give her a sense that she has control over the situation.

I hope this helps. For more ideas, you might want to look at


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answers from San Francisco on

give her time in the day that is just hers during a babys nap. tell her how much you love her and how even though there is a new baby no one can take your first babys place. tell her how much it makes u happy when she eats her food ask her what makes her happy. offer her so much love she cant take it. play with her as much as u can its going to exhaust you also u can take her to the park without the baby and just play with her for a couple of hours tucker her out and no snacks just water during ur trip when she gets home she should be ready to eat because of all the energy she has used up. another idea is hiding vegtables and good things in what she does eat. Go to a whole foods market buy whole grain waffles or whatever kind you feel fit. Eggos are a horrible source of energy for a two year old yes it is cheaper but the less u spend on food the more u spend on medical bills thats a fact. She is just feeling like she is not getting attention so she needs it from somewhere praise her for everything " oh my gosh molly did u draw that picture how beautiful im so lucky to have a great artist in my house"



answers from Sacramento on

Relax! Prepare your family meal and serve that to her. I always assume that parents are having their toddlers eat at the family table, because I think that's the best way to feed them. It's perfectly fine to be sure you include several of her favorite foods in every meal, but don't make those just for her. Put them out for all to enjoy so she sees them as part of the regular meal. Be sure you serve her small portions of everything, and put the items on her plate that she normally doesn't eat. Encourage her to try them, but don't make it a big power struggle. Eventually, she may try them. Give her the courtesy of acknowledging that she may not like everything, just as you have food preferences yourself. However, one thing I always did was to include even the foods the children said they didn't like on the plate... only in much smaller amounts. I told them I would like them to try those foods each time they were served, because our tastes change as we grow up, and I didn't want them to miss out all their lives on a food they might like simply because they didn't try it each time. There were a few foods that the children did learn to like, and many others they still don't like as adults, but giving them the option to try them each time didn't hurt anything. For the foods they said they didn't like, I never put more than a teaspoonful on the plate. I tried to keep all portions to about a tablespoonful at a time because putting a lot of food on a child's plate can sometimes make them feel overwhelmed. It's easy to give them more as they eat and are ready for more. Another thing I found helpful was to serve our children from a salad plate from our regular dishes. That gave them the sense of being part of the adult world, but when their food was put on the smaller plate it appeared to be like the adults larger portions on the large plates. A two year old can learn to handle the regular plates just fine. We have a home childcare and that's what all our children eat from most of the time.



answers from San Francisco on

I didn't get a chance to read all your responses, so if this is a repeat, I'm sorry.
I agree with Kelly V. I also wanted to add that I read somewhere that you should keep your mouth shut or eyes off your kids plate. You don't want someone looking at your plate and saying, "you need to eat this or that." That being said, my VERY picky (will eat peas, any bread, frozen blueberries, PB&J and waffles) makes it very difficult for me to do that. Lastly, I also read it doesn't matter what they eat in a day, you want to look at a week as a whole.
Best of luck and congrats!



answers from Indianapolis on

Don't strss, make a fuss, bribe, or anything of that nature out of this. I can't even begin to say in a BIG enough way that this is such an age thing, beginnings of a control thing since you are making a big deal out of it, and she's learning how to manipulate you since you are bribing her. She's not starving, this is an age that they don't require as much too eat. Just make sure you not letting her fill up on juice or milk before meals. It sounds like the foods she eats are actually much better than what most kids this age eat. Put 2-3 small amounts of whatever on her plate, making sure at least one of them is a good thing and let her be. Goodluck



answers from San Francisco on

I highly recommend nutritionist Ellyn Satter's book "Child of Mine, Feeding With Love and Good Sense" - very helpful info on things like how normal child developmental stages affect the child's approach to food (I read this when my girls were almost preschoolers and wished I had read it earlier so I would have known that it is totally normal and common for toddlers to repeatedly reject foods that they used to gobble up only a month prior, and that it's totally common for a toddler to reject a food a dozen times before even letting you put it on his/her plate and maybe a dozen more tries before the child will taste it), as well as plenty of reassurances that "Your child *knows* how to eat and grow" that take a lot of the stress out of feeding your kids. There are excerpts from the book on her web site
So- easier said than done I know - try to just keep offering her the food and trust that she'll decide to eat it when she's hungry, I doubt she'll intentionally starve herself at this age.



answers from Austin on

I'm so sorry this is happening! My advise: Plan your meals in advance. Put hers on her plate and let her eat or don't eat as she wishes. Don't make a big deal out of it. I know that it is hard. But even you realize that this is YOUR problem, not hers. She will eat when she is hungry. The list of food you gave is a good list! Lots of protein and fruit. I'd offer more veggies, but know that she probably won't eat them. If you can schedule meal times, offer only a set amount and kind of food, and remain bland and unaffected by her pickiness, this will all go away with time.
Stick in there! Good luck....



answers from Savannah on

Don't stress it. Don't bribe, force or make a big fuss over it with her. Yes, with the new baby in the house, she is feeling the lack of attention but she won't get over it if everyone in the house is giving in to her attention getting misbehaviors. When you make breakfast, if possible, give her two choices like eggs or waffles and only those two choices. If she wants something else, you may stick to your guns and only let her have eggs or waffles or what she wants. Same for lunch if you don't make one for everyone and dinner she eats what is cooked. You could let her pick say the veggie for dinner or a pasta. Letting her have a say in what she is eating makes her feel like she has some control. Now if she isn't eating her dinner, then she doesn't eat it and it is up to you if she gets a snack later on before bed. If you do allow a snack, it has to be a piece of fruit or something healthy. We don't eat our dinner and then get cookies later. Like I said, don't bribe, force or make a big deal out of her not eating.

Also, some good advice my friend got when she had her 2nd son and her oldest is almost 2yrs old, is to have the baby give a gift to the oldest sibling. It can be something as small as a hotwheels car. And try to involve her more with the baby too. Getting diapers, blankets, picking out her clothes (again, 2 choices) and allow her to do the same with her own clothes.

She may not know that she is causing a power struggle, but that's what it is and it's up to you as the parent not to give into that battle!!

Good luck and congrats on the new addition!!



answers from Chicago on

I have a 27 mos. old daughter that has horrible eating habits as well. I have had mine in EI for feeding issues since she was 16 mos. old to no avail. The thing I have learned in all this time, is the more you make a fuss of it, the worse off it is. You can't force her to eat, she will honestly eat when she's hungry. I agree with the other post, give her two choices of 'healthy' foods & let her be. We've had three 'feeding' therapists working on this, and we haven't come any further as far as getting her to eat a variety of foods, she eats the same thing constantly. My daughter is 26 lbs. & very long. Her ped. isn't concerned either, as long as she gets her vitamins in everyday he doesn't seem concerned. I feel your frustration & guilt, completely, thats why I sought out additional EI help. (She also had some sensory issues). I'm sorry I can't offer more sound advice, but know your a good Mom doing your best & the pickyness is normal. Keep offering her a variety of foods & she will come around. Don't push the issue or get into power struggles with her. Good luck. Feel free to email.



answers from Boston on

I realize how stressful this can be. You're worried that your child won't thrive as well as about the behavior that's been created with this ordeal. I think you should totally let it go. Completely give up pushing her so you can change the dynamics. (This might actually be a relief for you!) Ever heard of those "The Dance of blah blah blah" self-help books? If you stop doing your half of the dance, she won't have anyone to dance with and the power struggles will end. Put just a bite of a new food in front of her and if she refuses, then don't mention it.

I don't think your daughter has as terrible a diet as others I've heard of. Despite my SIL's relentless attemps to introduce new foods, my nephew only at pea soup and cooked carrots for more than a year. His pediatrician wasn't worried either. At age 18, he still has a somewhat limited diet but he's fine with it. (I don't think any in his family are big foodies or adventurous eaters anyway.)

You could give her the same meal as everyone else, and if she doesn't eat it, then she goes hungry. We do this but our kids are older and she may be too young. You could also serve her the foods she likes (maybe just for breakfast and lunch) and tell her she has to have one bite of what others are eating at dinner.

*Kids like to eat what they make so maybe she could help "cook"... tear the lettuce, whatever.
*My grandmother found that my kids will almost anything if it's cut small & has a toothpick in it. They think it's fun to have "appetizers".
*Food on skewers (maybe a straw at her age?) also appeals to kids.
*Make fun faces out of food on the plate. I used to get mine to eat broccoli by telling them it was a miniature tree & that they were giants. With asparagus, I piqued their curiosity by telling them it was a science experiment. If they ate a few pieces, their pee would smell. The boys especially love that one!
*Kids like to dip. Give her a bit of ketchup or ranch dressing. (One of mine won't eat chicken w/o a side of BBQ sauce.)
*There are all sorts of kid-friendly recipes with super healthy ingredients out there...sneak grated zucchini into banana bread-yummy, baked/steamed sweet potatoes with a touch of maple syrup, etc.

I had a recipe once for yummy vegetable & chicken nuggets--boil chicken, cut up into small pieces, put in food processor with Parmesan cheese, an egg as a binder, various veggies--carrots/peas/corn/red pepper..., and maybe a splash or two of milk to moisten. Blend then shape mixture into nugget shapes. Bake on a cookie sheet with a light spray of olive oil or pan fry in olive oil.

Good luck and try not to despair too much. Maybe you could give the issue a break for a while and then try new approaches, but still don't push it. The bright side? Kids' taste buds change as they get older! Best wishes.



answers from Sacramento on

u have to just change it! it might be hard for a week but you have to do it now! i give my son no extra attention when he doesnt want to eat. i simply say, this is your dinner, you will eat it all (i am very careful at the amount i put on his plate), and you will not get up or have dessert until it is all gone. there has only been once or twice he actually sat at the table longer than the rest of us. your kids want rules and structure. it is your job as a parent to provide that for them. good luck!!! we all need it :)



answers from Modesto on

She sounds SOOOOOOO normal to me! :o)

It looks like she's getting a great variety of foods, except fruits and veggies........which my kids didn't eat until later anyway. I worried, too, however, the Dr was never worried, so i began to relax about it and just do the best I could at the time.

Some others foods that my sisters kids took to, were peas and strawberries. Peas are easy to pick up and like little balls for them :O) Strawberries are RED, colorful and sweet even without the aid of sugar :o) My kids never went for them, though :o(

I wouldn't put too much pressure on her to eat everything you put in front of her......otherwise, you could make your life and hers more stressful. Be happy that she eats a full meal and gets satisfied. Keep introducing new things that you and your husband are eating. If she see's you eating it, then she's more willing to try.

My boys are now 7 and 13, and their diet is finally changing for the took awhile, but it's changing :O)

I just let them eat their "usual" and encouraged them to try new things often (even though they didn't want to, I still kept trying). My youngest still doesn't eat pizza! He's too afraid of it because of the way that it looks :o) Kids are funny, and although pizza isn't a great source of vitamins, it's a good example of how some kids interpret food.

I still make milkshakes using Pediasure about 2 times a week to make sure they both get a good dose of vitamins. I should make it more often.......but i don't :O)

Just sit your daughter in her chair faced with her own familiar foods and let her eat. Put a few peaches, or apple bits on her plate and see if she'll go for day she will! :O)

I hope that eases your mind a little. I learned that you really can't force the eating thing AND maintain a happy environment. I don't suggest you try too hard. It just makes for constant strees and tears......let's "pick our battles"....if she's eating a full 1/2 way decent meal, then that should be good enough for now. at 2.5yrs old, I'm sure there are other more important things to work on :O)

~N. :o)



answers from San Francisco on

With all that is going on in your home, put a spin on it and think how lucky you are that she has such simple tastes :-)... The pediatrician is right, everything is fine, remember she is stressed too, she has to share you and she is a big sister, if you give her the food that brings her comfort it might ease the stress in both.

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