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Picky Toddler: only eats yogurt, apples & cereal

I've moved beyond wondering if how much he eats is enough.  Now, he's in a food rut, eating just a few things, and a whole lot of them (thank goodness).  We offer all sorts of [gluten-free] options, but the child is constantly gravitating to the same old things.  I know I've been through this before: my biggest girl would only eat yogurt & veggie booty all day long.  I know it passes.  Aside from continuing to offer new things, lots of options, and waiting for it to pass, is there anything else that can nudge a toddler off a single-track meal plan?

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Ah, the toddler diet. You get down to three, four and if you are very lucky five favorites. Sigh. My only luck with breaking out of some of this was to give my kids extra playtime at the park so that they were very hungry when they sat at dinner. True hunger can quell some of the finickiness.

Good luck.

I just posted about this on my blog the other day. Check it out! http://recipelovebysarah.blogspot.com/2011/04/feeding-my-toddler.html

Stop paying attention to what they eat? Offer healthy food at regular times throughout the day and don't say anything about what they choose to eat or not eat. Zilch. No rewards for eating. No comments on not eating. Let them learn to connect eating to being hungry. If they're hungry, they'll choose from the foods on the table. If they're not hungry, they won't. Don't offer lots and lots of choices or a constant supply of processed snack food. You could easily make yogurt, apples and cereal the breakfast meal since you know those are choices your child likes, but don't offer them again at lunch or at dinner. Grit your teeth through a couple days of transition to a new system, and then move on.

I agree with J. But I know you asked if there was anything that would nudge a toddler, and I have to say, even finicky kids often love watermelon. Aside from that, additional random advice, mostly what J said. I'd say keep yourselves outside or active as much of the day as you can. Don't carry any grazing snacks or cheerio type things with you. Only offer meals or planned snacks while sitting down at the table, and never at any other time. Only offer water to drink when you are not at the table. Save milk only for the table (unless you're nursing) and stay away from juice at that age. And when you are ready to make dinner, make your kitchen smell as delicious as possible to you, even if it is not something your child will be eating, (coffee, smashing garlic for a salad, frying and onion for spaghetti sauce, or whatever.) It may not help in the short term, but in the long term, your child will learn to salivate for what you're cooking.

A few random things my picky toddler would eat were: corn from can, baby food (I was buying it longer than I had originally planned as this was a good way to get him to eat fruit and vegetables), smoothies, peanut butter. I would offer peanut butter on the spoon if he didn't want it on celery or toast.
I don't mean to be a breastfeeding police but it helped that he was breastfed into the toddler hood. I didn't worry too much about lack of nutrition from limited diet.

Too be fair, his nutritional needs are basically being met. In addition to NOT letting him graze, you can make it as difficult on him as possible during mealtime. If he doesn't like what;s served, make him wait until you're done eating before you'll fix him anything else.

But I should add, my almost 11 year old is still pretty fussy, so I might not be the best one to give advice!

I'd say as long as he's gaining weight OK, I wouldn't even fix him something else to eat if he snubs dinner. I believe introducing our children to table food is about more than food, but about sharing a daily ritual with family. Part of that is all being nourished from basically the same meal. Go ahead and make yogurt and apples an offering once a day, but what's for dinner is what's for dinner. It's his choice to eat it or not, and I agree with others, I wouldn't make any comment on it one way or another.

We've been trying the approach of "that's what's for dinner" with our picky 4 and 5 year olds. I like J's addition of no rewards for eating, and no comments on not eating. The hardest part is the whining and complaining. It makes it hard for my wife and I to enjoy our dinner. I've considered a "leave the table if they complain" policy, but I don't want them to not try the food or not feel welcome at the table. Any tactics people use for that?

The above advice is most helpful for me and the already begun struggles getting my 15 mos old son to eat a more varied diet. He is still breastfed and presently nurses 2-3 times during the day and once before bed. At his 12 mos appt, my Pediatrician was concerned about anemia since my son was not eating meat (his choice, would spit it out or turn head), we tested him and he was anemic so now we are focusing on getting more iron-rich foods into his diet. One tip my pediatrician recommended was to wean him off night nursings because he was getting most of his calories during the night hours and then satiated during the day as a result - this was causing a cycle where he nursed all night, ate little solids by day, and then was ready again to eat all night! Partially weaning him at night not only helped him eat more during the day but low and behold, he also now sleeps thru the night and gets a solid 12 hours straight!!

One thing additionally was that it was clear he desired more independence and wanted to feed himself, refusing anything I offered from a spoon. At first I switched over to making everything a finger food, but soon I realized that he was old enough to eat with a toddler sized spoon and fork, so I offer him both at every meal time. He's gotten quite adept at using utensils and this helped a lot in getting more solids into him. I personally have him use metal tipped toddler utensils because I wanted there to be no transition needed when his hands were big enough to use our household set. Yes, he plays a little more with his food with the utensils but he is also proud to use them properly. I bought 4 spoon/fork sets - one for each meal and one for the diaper bag.

Lastly, I don't believe that it is "mommy dearest" in the slightest to only offer healthy food options and that's it - eat it or don't. Unless your child is under a doctor's supervision for dietary issues or has a medical or sensory issue, I think this is a reasonable technique and have found success in our household with this choice already. We offer very little sugar in the form of "treats", so I think so far we have balance in that dept.

One thing I am curious about is "grazing" versus dedicated "sit-down snack/meal times only"... is grazing throughout the day ever positive for getting kids to eat more (by providing healthy choices, but leaving out those choices for them to eat when they feel hungry versus only having food placed in front of them at designated times)? Or is it only going to produce bad habits in the long run? Obviously, school schedules dictate set times to eat so if a child is used to grazing during the day at home, does this produce any issues of transition once they start school?

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Okay you will think I am crazy but I used chocolate chips. My son wouldn't eat dinner, veggies, meats, tofu etc. I don't do processed foods everything is homemade and often he helps cook. We don't snack at all in our house either, unless the grandparents are around and I don't do regular sweets in the house. At 2 I did spice games at dinner time. He would pick a spice out of the cabinet smell it and dip his finger or I would give him a pinch in his hand to taste, then I let him season the food with spices. That helped a ton. But at 2.5 he stopped eating veggies and I used chocolate chips. For every bite of veggies one dark chip. I didn't do it every night in fact it was more intermittent and after 5 weeks no chocolate chips just eating what was in front of him. We never said anything about the food and we don't offer choices. We do however always offer something with dinner we know he will eat as a preferred option like a fruit, but now he will eat practically what ever we put in front of him. My son has always needed reinforcement and that is what works for him. Potty training was a breeze, food issues, and sleeping in his bed all because we reinforced him with things or activities that he likes. He is also a kid that I can spend 4-5 hours at the park and he is ready for more. Not all kids are the same and you will find what works for you and your kiddo. I thought I knew what type of parent I would be but my son has truly redefined me as a person and parent because of what he needs and who he is.

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