Dear Is This Normal,
I’m dealing with a 100% full blown picky toddler who refuses to touch anything green and would rather go hungry than eat anything “healthy.” I try to draw a hard line, but when my kid tells me they’re hungry during bed time, it breaks my heart. How do I find a balance of giving my child healthy options while also making sure they eat enough? What’s the balance? How do I make this work without feeling guilty on both sides of this issue?
Dear Healthy Soldier,
Every single parent of a toddler just nodded their head in agreement as they read your dilemma. Toddlers are awesome little humans, but reasonable and adaptable? Not so much! This is all so incredibly (and frustratingly) normal, I can’t even tell you.
Don’t fret, mama! Sometimes, all it takes is a change in the way you present food to them and giving them a bit more control over the situation. When all else fails, you go full Trickster Mom and start hiding veggies in the foods they love until they come around. Pediatrician Dr. Alison Mitzner is here to offer some specific support and advice for getting your toddler to expand their palate, and hopefully give you some peace of mind.
First of all, you are fighting the good fight. Don’t feel guilty. Toddlers can be very picky! If they are healthy, growing appropriately, and energetic, they are most likely getting all they need right now.
But, introducing healthy options into the meals your toddler eats is so important in the long run. And there’s a couple of ways you can do so.
It may help to get your toddler more involved in the food you prepare. Take them to the grocery store with you, show them healthy options, and let them choose what to buy and what they want to eat at home for meals and snacks.
At home, have them choose between the two healthy food options they picked out at the store. This makes them feel more in control over what they’re eating (and more likely to eat it!). Also you can have them help prepare the meal. Children are more likely to eat foods they helped prepare. At meal times, make sure to serve everyone the same thing. You want them to stick to the healthy meal that is made.
Model good eating habits. We are our kids biggest role models, and if they see you trying, eating and loving healthier food options, they’ll be more likely to eat them too.
Pay close attention to how you portion and serve meals to your toddler; kids are often hungriest at the start of the meal, so this is also the best time to have them try a new veggie or food.
If you’re running into a wall with these other tips, it might be time to get creative. Lots of parents resort to mixing in veggies into foods their kids love (like carrots in macaroni and cheese, cauliflower in tater tots, and even broccoli or spinach in sweet smoothies). Often times they love it and never know they just ate a full serving of good, healthy veggies!
If you have any concerns about your child’s diet, always discuss them with your pediatrician. Your pediatrician sees you and your child frequently in the first years of life, and can and should discuss their diet and nutrition to ensure your child is growing appropriately and getting what they need.
Remember, the most important thing to do is keep introducing new foods, in small amounts, one at a time, into your child’s diet. Even if they don’t like it the first time, keep trying. Don’t get discouraged by their refusal to eat something new—it may take several attempts, but knowing you’re feeding them good, nourishing food is so, so worth it.
Good luck out there,
Dr. Alison Mitzner
Dr. Alison Mitzner is a single mom, a board-certified pediatrician, a writer, a fitness expert, a Sr. Director at a major pharmaceutical company, and a passionate supporter of moms feeling calm, confident, and healthy. Her health and wellness articles have been featured in the The Huffington Post, Today, Shape, Parents, Reader’s Digest, Aaptiv, Self and more. Dr. Mitzner’s mission is to help moms of all types with real, science-backed advice and parenting tips — so they can feel great, parent with confidence, and get back to their most important job… being a mom!