How to Help Your Child Be a Good Eater

How to Help Your Child Be a Good Eater. Tips to follow to avoid your child being a picky eater and being willing to eat most foods.

You can help your picky eater to be less picky and be more adventurous with foods with the tips in this blog post. Get your little one eating healthy foods!

How to Help Your Child Be a Good Eater. Tips to follow to avoid your child being a picky eater and being willing to eat most foods. 

There is not much else that stresses a mom out like food. Is he getting enough? Is his nutrition good enough? Is he hungry? Why isn’t he eating as much today? It goes on.

Do you have a picky eater? “You might find yourself worrying about how to get your picky eater to eat at all, much less east healthy food. In this post, I talk about how to get that picky eater to eat.

It starts off as quite amusing and funny. You baby doesn’t like this or that (Kaitlyn hated ALL fruit). Those faces are the best! The shudders. The scrunched faces. The fake gagging.

Then you start to worry. Your baby isn’t eating like you think she should and you don’t know what to do. when Kaitlyn was hating fruits I worried about it and did some checking around with people I know and also stuff online to talk to people who had experienced the same thing.

With Brayden, he really hated squash, so I stopped buying it and stopped feeding it to him. My friend still fed stuff to her son even if he didn’t like it. I can see how that would be beneficial so you can be sure to get the most variety in the diet. Maybe I didn’t worry about it with Brayden because it was the only food he didn’t like. I think the older they get, the harder they get to push into something new.

Kaitlyn didn’t like fruits for a couple of weeks. She clamped her mouth shut and refused to eat, but I just continued to give it to her every day at every meal, and she now eats it. It isn’t her favorite part of the meal, but she eats a good amount and enough that I am not worried about it at all. You have to just keep trying.

Helping a Picky Baby Eat

Pretty much the consensus for fixing the picky eater is that you keep trying and at some point they will eat. You just have to consistently offer the solids, the baby will eat what they will, and eventually they will eat food.

I guess it is like everything else (sleep training, sleeping through the night, etc.). Some are naturals, some need work, some adapt quickly, some need lots of practice…and it is so hard to look into the future and think “it will happen someday” without knowing when that day is.

Kaitlyn adapted rather quickly, much faster than I anticipated. One person said her baby seemed to not like the pureed food, but once he could eat solids (real solids) he ate much better.

  • Offer the food often. Decide what is best for you and LO. Every meal? Once a day? Every so often? Only you can decide what is best, but keep trying. The more you work with her while young the fewer problems you will have as she gets older. Over time I am sure she will get even better. She will eventually grow to like it, or at least eat it. It took Kaitlyn about 2 months of slowly working up to eat it. Expect it to take time.
  • Show some excitement! It really does help. It still helps with Brayden. I always cheer when he finishes all of his veggies at dinner, and he really likes it. Who doesn’t enjoy applause? 
  • Open your mouth. If your baby will copy your faces, open your mouth wide. She will follow suit.
  • Start with solids. An idea to try would be to try to feed solids before you nurse her. If she is too hungry and impatient, you could nurse one side and then solids then nurse the other. That is what I did with Kaitlyn until she ate solids well (I did it with Brayden too). Now I nurse both sides before her solids. If she were hungry, she might try it enough to just get her used to the flavors and start to like it.
  • Try different textures. Some babies like the stage one, while others very much dislike it and prefer stage two or three. If you make your own food, experiment with the thickness and runniness of your food to see what your baby prefers. This same principle is true for cereal. Some like it runny, some like it thick. Some don’t care so long as they get food.
  • Try different brands (or make your own). If you buy food, experiment with the brands. I found Brayden liked one brand over another. And even then, there were a couple of foods he preferred in other brands.

Kaitlyn didn’t love green beans at first (and neither did Brayden). She didn’t refuse them, but wouldn’t eat as much as she would peas and eventually the garden veggies.

I kept giving them to her every so often, expecting her to only have a few bites and then would follow up with peas so she would get full. She got to where she would eat them. Sometimes it was only 3/4 of the stage 2 container, but she still ate them.

Getting a Picky Toddler to Eat

There are some things I think you can do to create a good eater who eats a balanced diet. Some tips may be more challenging due to individual personality or physical issues.

Here are my tips. Most of these can really apply to every age from beginning eater to toddler years (and perhaps older):

  • Continue to offer foods even if you know he doesn’t like it. Kaitlyn can be kind of picky in what she eats. She doesn’t like fruit in general, and she doesn’t like green beans. I feed her fruit three times a day. There are now some she will eat pretty well, but there are others I know she is going to take a few bites of and stop. I still offer them every so often. Not every day (there are enough fruits that I can offer a different fruit each meal and not repeat very often). But she gets them. It takes time for you to really decide if you like something or not, and also your taste buds will get used to something if exposed to it. This can apply to toddlers also.
  • One more bite. Babies and toddlers know when they are full. When my baby (10 months) says she is done, I will often tell her one more bite, especially if she is just turning her nose up at the fruit. If she ate well and I know she is genuinely full, I just say okay and she is done. But if she didn’t eat her fruit well, I tell her one more bite. She will clamp her mouth shut for a moment, but I give her my “mommy glare” (you know the look moms give when you aren’t behaving) and she will open up. I did the same thing with Brayden (2.5 YO), but now I take it a step further, explained below.
  • Feed what they like. You want to offer a variety of foods, but you also want them to get the nutrition they need. I will offer Kaitlyn a fruit she doesn’t like first, and then I will feed her a fruit I think she will eat. Also, kids, like adults, go through stages where they really like something. I have heard that you can look at your nutritional intake more over a week than worry about day by day. So, there are days Brayden is in love with bananas. Those days, I let him go at it and he will eat up to 4 full bananas by himself. Then if he doesn’t eat fruit that well the next day, I know he more than made up for it the day before. If they are loving something a certain day, I let them have it.
  • Offer them what you eat. Brayden eats exactly what we eat for dinner. I don’t make him a separate dinner. At lunch, I will make foods I know he likes (and admittedly I still love those “kid” favorites), but for dinner, we eat “adult” food. He loves it. We have done this for as long as he has been eating “real” food. Kaitlyn does it to an extent. Anything we are eating that she can eat, I give her. However, her diet is still really limited.
  • Expect more from them. Have you heard the phrase “people live up to expectations”? It is true. If you give your child food and expect him to not eat it, odds are he won’t.
  • Require them to try it. There are times I put a food in front of Brayden that he is not interested in trying. We require him to try it. You have to try to not make it a battle ground. There are times it has become a battle for Brayden and he will try it, like it, but not eat it because he doesn’t want to admit we were right. So remember your child’s dignity. If he tries it and likes it, don’t do the “I told you so” thing. If he likes it, I just say, “Good, I am glad.” You don’t need to take that opportunity to lecture the fact that you were right and your child needs to listen to you more. They are smart enough to draw that conclusion without you saying so. When he tries it but doesn’t like it, thank him for trying.
  • Use obsessions to your advantage. Brayden has had his peanut butter and jelly run. That is all he wanted for every single meal. When he would come to the table and see that PB&J was not on the menu, he would tell me he wanted it. I would tell him after he ate everything on his plate, he could hav
  • How to Help Your Child Be a Good Eater. Tips to follow to avoid your child being a picky eater and being willing to eat most foods. e it. So he would eat everything, but often forget about the PB&J, or just be too full for it. If he eats it all and still wanted the sandwich, I give it to him. You have to be sure you set a requirement you will follow through with. If you know you won’t require all food to be gone, but will say, that’s close enough, tell him to eat the “close enough” amount.
  • Get sneaky. If I am feeding something to Brayden I know he isn’t likely to eat much of, I give it to him alone before the other food.
  • Give your child an appropriate amount of food. I have heard that if you put small portions on the plate, the child eats more because it doesn’t look so daunting. I don’t know if that is factually true or if it just seems that they eat more. Be sure you don’t give your child more than he can eat and then expect him to finish it all.
  • Require more bites. If he didn’t eat many peas but says he is all done, you can require him to eat more peas. For Brayden, X number of bites is better than “finish it all.” Finish it all seems overwhelming to him. If I want him to finish it all, I look at it and estimate how many bites that will take him. I then tell him to take that many bites. If he takes that many and doesn’t finish it, he is done.
  • Require real bites. Sometimes Brayden will try to sneak one pea onto his spoon and call that a bite, but we inform him that doesn’t count. He needs to take real, normal bites.
  • No negotiations. Brayden has recently started negotiating. I say 5 more bites, he says 2. I then say 5, he says 3. I then say 6 and he says 5. Funny. You have to be wise in what you first say. Don’t say 10 knowing he can only do 5.
  • Praise. When your child obeys and is a good fellow-diner, let him know what a good boy he is being and has been.
  • Limit snacks. If your child isn’t eating meals well, perhaps he is getting too much at snack time. My son gets snacks once a day. You have to be careful about supplementing the meal if they didn’t eat well. It is tricky. You don’t want your child to be hungry, but you also want your child to eat meals well. You will have to determine when your child is old enough to have to wait when he decides not to eat well. One idea is to save the food that was not eaten and offer that if they are hungry later.
  • No dessert. If your child doesn’t eat well for the meal, but is hungry for desert, don’t reward his poor eating with desert. Same thing, if he doesn’t eat well, save the food and offer that before the desert is eaten. I understand that we are often hungry for treats even if we aren’t hungry for other food. I often say I have a separate stomach for deserts. But you want your child to eat good food.
  • Require the child to obey. You are going to have to be honest with yourself about this. If your child refuses to follow your voice commands at dinner, he likely is not following elsewhere. If he is not obedient on a regular basis at the dinner table, review your overall parenting and see if you are lacking somewhere. I have always found that when Brayden isn’t being obedient in some way, it is because of something I am doing. You need to swallow your pride and make necessary corrections. Also, don’t feel bad. You are learning as you go. You want what is best. Just make the changes and move forward.
  • Appropriate consequences. Like I said before, you have to decide what age your child is ready for things. If you have a child who is spitting or playing with food, thing about what you can do about that age appropriately. Last month, Brayden started to think it was funny to take a drink of milk and then let it fall out of his mouth. He also thought it was great fun to spit his milk out. We told him that was a no. I also told him where he was allowed to spit. I said, “You may spit outside and you may spit in the bathtub, but you may not spit at the dinner table.” We also told him if he continued, he would not get to have milk. There was a time he did it again, and his milk was taken away. He was better after that. Perhaps your child will need to be removed from the dinner table or have food taken away. When Brayden was younger, I would take the food away and set the time for about 30 seconds. Then he got it back for another chance. That was enough of a wake up call for him. Perhaps a privilege needs to be taken a way. Maybe a time out. You know your child; you need to decide what consequence will work best for him.
  • Let child set the pace. Children and babies are really good and knowing when they are full. Most adults could take lessons. If your child is full, then he is full. Don’t stress. If he says he is full but gets hungry before the next meal, explain he should have eaten more for the previous meal. You could move the next meal earlier if possible, but so long as your child is age-ready, there is nothing wrong with letting him experience consequences. Keep in mind that children’s appetites vary. Growth spurts come and go. Also, around a year of age, they decrease the amount of food they eat dramatically. Just like sometimes you can be more hungry than others, your child can be.
  • Be aware of other factors. I find that I have to be careful about what I tell Brayden he can do after he eats. He is at an age where food is an afterthought. He wants to play. If he asks to do something, I can’t just say “after you are done eating” because he is then immediately done. I have to say, “After you eat your food all gone” or “After you eat all that Mommy tells you to.”
  • Be a good example. If you want your child to eat well and behave at the table, you and your spouse should also do so. One time we were having mixed vegetables that included lima beans with dinner. Brayden tried one and was simply disgusted. I started to eat them and just couldn’t do it myself. I didn’t require him to eat them because I couldn’t do it.
  • Require your child ask permission. When Brayden is done eating, he says he is all done. I then ask him if his tummy is all the way full. He usually says yes, though sometimes he tells me he needs one more bite of something first. If he is full and I think he has eaten enough, I inspect his hands. Then we clean him up as needed and he can get down from the table.

As always, if you have your own ideas, please post a comment with the things that have worked for you.

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Reader Questions

  • Elizabeth asked: How did you handle pickiness when your kids were around 1 year old? My son used to eat anything, really anything, put in front of him, but recently he’s become more picky about what he eats. I’m not serving him weird food, but am just giving him whatever my husband and I are having for our meals. I’ve heard of putting the child’s plate in the fridge and bringing it out at the next meal if he/she won’t eat it, but I’m not sure if my son’s too young for that approach. Did you ever try that?
    Answer: I never have tried the food in the fridge approach. With new foods, it can take some time for them to try it over and over before they form a real opinion. My requirement will be one bite to at least try, but that is it at the younger ages. As they get older, I increase number of bites. They do seem to get pickier as they get older.
  • CO Mom asked: My 6 month old absolutely loved her green veggies (already introduced yellows) until one day last week when peas and bean were out. I have basically forced her to eat them because I don’t want her to not get the nutrition and I don’t want her to learn that if she gags and makes hysterical faces she can pass on certain foods. At dinner last night and lunch today, I was forcing greens into her mouth when she would start talking and blowing raspberries (MESS!). I put my finger over her mouth and gave her a firm no, but cognitively I don’t know that she’s quite to the point of being able to understand. Finally I mixed some rice cereal w/ the beans and she ate like a champ. I was thinking I’d reduce the amt of rice cereal over the next week and see if I can get her to “love” greens the way she did for the first 2 weeks she was on them. What are your thoughts on this? I don’t want to be overfeeding her by giving her rice cereal in addition to greens at lunch and dinner, but she ate hungrily and we usually let her decide when she’s finished (within reason). I’m going to be patient and continue to offer greens, but the rice cereal mix seems like a good compromise until she’ll take plain greens. Thanks for your advice!
    Answer: CO Mom,I think it is good to let her know that certain behaviors are unacceptable. I think she is able to understand that to a point, but don’t expect her to be obedient 100%–toddlers are at 60%, so expect less than that from a 6 month old (don’t let it slide half the time, still tell her no, but don’t get frustrated when she isn’t obedient all the time). She might now find the greens alone to be too much flavor. That might be the reason she is liking it better with rice. I like the idea of trying the veggies without the rice every so often to see if she will eat it, but I don’t see a problem of adding rice if it helps her. She will get used to the flavor over time.
  • Ashley asked: PLEASE HELP! we are right in the middle of refusing to eat pretty much any “food” and i am beside myself as to what to do. my son just turned a year old and was eating finger foods, cheese, grilled cheese, bananas, strawberries, veggies, toast, etc. now – he will hardly touch anything with texture. even if he liked it before. mealtime has now become a fight and i don’t want it to be that. he turns his head, closes his mouth, pushes everything away. we can get some “baby food” in him if we distract him enough to try it. but, i really don’t want to get in the habit of having to distract him for EVERY meal – it is ALOT of work just for 1 bite. and i’m reading that he should be eating what we eat by now, but he is refusing. so, what i’m wondering is: should i not worry about it and if he doesn’t eat, maybe he will at the next meal? should i try to make him eat something? what about regular food – i’m worried that he won’t ever eat it? i’m just at a loss!! please help :)thanksashley
    Answer: Ashley,You can require him to take a bite, but don’t try to force food in him. At 12 months, they eat significantly less than they did prior to that. Offer him the foods at mealtimes and let him eat what he will. If he doesn’t eat, he can eat again at the next meal. He won’t starve himself. Just be sure you don’t give him food between meals when he doesn’t eat well; you want him to eat well at mealtime.
  • Cate asked: Thank you for your invaluable blog! Once again, I turn to it in times of crisis. My 11 month old has become a picky eater and stopped gaining weight. She has started throwing food off her tray and every time she does it I give her the mommy face and say no, but she takes her next piece of food and does it anyway. She knows it is wrong because she watches me very closely when she does it. Sometimes, my face is enough to get her to stop but sometimes it’s not. My problem is that I don’t want to discipline her by taking food away because she needs to eat! She used to eat much more – she is mostly all real food since she started refusing purees around 9 – 10 months. Now she nurses at wake up (6AM), then has breakfast (usually at 7 pureed fruit with cereal or banana wheat pancake and/or toast); at 10 – 10.30 she has a small bottleor nurses (3 oz or so) and a small snack of cheerios; at 12.30 or 1.00 she has lunch (yogurt with fruit or veggies; and/or a few pieces of chicken and/or a few pieces of cheese); snack around 3 or 3.30 and dinner at 6 (a little meat, a veggie, avocado and some fruit). I know when I list that it sounds like a lot of food, but she doesn’t eat that much at all anymore – only a few bites at each meal, and since she has stopped gaining weight I don’t know what to do. Any ideas? I am totally confused about how people are “making” the babies eat. She turns her head and closes her lips and puts her hands in front of her face – unless I physically pulled her hands back and pried open her mouth there is no getting in … it’s like fort knox! Any help would be great.
    Answer: Cate, unless she is losing weight, I wouldn’t worry about it. Babies stop gaining rapidly around a year old. They dramatically decrease the amount of food they are eating. It is best to just offer her food and try to not stress over amounts. She won’t starve herself. So long as food is offered to her, she will be fine. There are some things to help. One is I would feed her solids right after nursing. She might feel full enough an hour later that she doesn’t need to eat a breakfast.Don’t turn mealtime into a battle. If she throws food off the tray, take it away (without emotion) or take her out for a break and then try again. She might be throwing it because she isn’t hungry and knows it will get your attention. See the blog label “toddlers” for more on food amounts for toddlers.
    Cate replied: Thanks so much. I think that is the right approach. I also read another post where you suggested relying on sign language so we have been really working on the enough sign. Now if she throws her food, I ask her if she is finished and make the sign for enough and she enthusiastically does it back to me. I’m noticing she is starting to do it more proactively and I think it helps her to have a way to say finished. I still worry that she is saying finished before eating enough (and our doctor is suggesting I give her hot dogs and cold cuts???) but I’m going to put my faith in believing that she won’t starve herself. Thanks for the response and hope all is going well with your newest addition!
    Reply: Cate, I am glad to hear of your improvement!You know…I have to respectfully disagree with your doctor on the hot dogs and cold cuts. First of all, hot dogs can be a choking hazard for a baby that young. Second of all, cold cuts can have a lot of bacteria in them. I don’t even eat cold cuts at all while I am pregnant just so I can avoid the bacteria.I think a book you might enjoy is Super Baby Food. There is a blog label to the right. I just finished reading it last week and it is fantastic!
  • Organic Fanatic asked: I love your blog and enjoy reading everyone else’s responses too. My baby is 7.5 months. He’s been eating solids for 1.5 months, and 2 weeks ago we extended his schedule to 4, 4, 3.5, 2. Prior to this he had stopped being hungry at the 3 to 3.5 hr mark early in the day so i knew it was time to extend his schedule. Our problem, however, is that he often won’t hardly eat anything or even want to eat much at the first feeding of the day – formula that is. He usually gets up at 6:30 or 6:45, we offer him formula within 15 minutes of getting up. Then we give him solids. However, lately he has hardly been eating any formula when we get him up – maybe 2-4 oz, then eating his 2.5-3 oz of solids. Then he gets hungry before his nap of course. I’ve been feeding him because he won’t nap if I don’t, but this habit is starting to drive me crazy because it throws off his eating for the whole rest of the day. There are also feedings where he doesn’t want forumla; he only wants solids. What do I do? Offer solids first? Should I start with first meal offering milk first, then solids, then milk again but keep it within a certain time frame and then after that time limit, don’t feed him until the next feeding — even if he cries through the whole morning nap? I’m at a loss.
    Answer: Organic Fanatic,You can wait up to 30 minutes after he gets up to feed him if you need to. If it were me, I wouldn’t feed him again before the nap.Feed the formula first. That is the most important at this age. He shouldn’t cry at the beginning of a nap out of hunger. Even if he didn’t eat really well, he shouldn’t be so hungry that crying would be from hunger. If he wakes early, I would try to hold him off but feed him once you see he just won’t wait any more.Does he eat in the night? Or have a dreamfeed? If so, that is likely the reason for him not being hungry in the morning.