Q&A: My 2 Year Old is a Picky Eater

CME WebsitesChild Development, Child Routines, Mealtime

blockquote_bgMy son is 2 1/2 years old and has been a “picky eater” since he stopped eating jarred baby food after stage 2. He would not progress to stage 3 and began his pickiness. He does not eat ANY meats or veggies. His menu is limited at approximately 20-25 items. I read your “picky eater” tips and one says “Limit juice intake 4-6 oz. per day”. I only give my son approx. 1 oz in his cup and fill the remaining 5 oz with water. I hope this is what you mean. Also, I didn’t see anything about restricting milk intake? Why? I’ve read so many things that say to restrict milk intake.

Thank you for your question. Many children have trouble transitioning from stage 2 to stage 3 baby foods, because this is when the foods go from just being thicker in overall consistency, to be thicker with chunks in them and some children will gag and resists eating this type of texture. I am glad you read our article on “Picky Eaters“, I am wondering if you continued on to read the difference between a picky eater and a problem eater? I know it can be overwhelming when you have a picky eater in your family. Toddlers are at a stage where they are exerting their independence and they want control and not eating is also a way of getting that control. But, since your son is already 2.5 and is not eating any meats or veggies and is only eating 20-25 foods he could possibly have a feeding problem that might need help from a feeding therapist to address it.

Is your son refusing to try most or all new foods? Does he gag on certain textures or refuse to touch or accept new foods put on his plate during meals? Reading these Feeding FAQs may be helpful for you to determine if your son may need more help and from there, if you think your son may more than just picky you may want to consult your local early intervention provider and ask for a feeding evaluation. You should also discuss this with your son’s pediatrician, as many children who are more than just picky sometimes do not have adequate nutrition and/or growth. At 2, a child only needs around 2 cups of milk per day and so yes, limiting milk intake and juice (watered down is fine the way you are doing it limit of 4 oz) intake is a good idea. Offer only water in between meals. Many toddlers carry sippy cups around the house all day and fill up on liquids instead of food.

More Tips to Help a Picky Eater:

  • Never scold or punish for not eating. Always keep mealtime pleasant and fun. Praise, praise, praise for all attempts at touching or accepting foods.
  • Allow child to play with food & touch it before he even attempts to want to taste it. This may take several meals of presenting the same food over and over. Many kids require at least 17 tastes or presentations of a new food before they will eat it.
  • Let him eat condiments of all sorts with meals, even if it’s gross to you. Many kids will eat veggies or meats if they are allowed to dip them in ketchup, ranch dressing, BBQ sauce, etc.
  • Let other kids and adults be reinforcers by always eating and sampling what the toddler has on his plate.
  • If you have success with one food, try something very similar, but perhaps a different brand to introduce different types of the same food.
  • Play oral motor games to increase sensory awareness in his mouth: blowing bubbles, brushing teeth with an electric tooth brush, vibrating teethers, drinking through a straw vs a sippy cup is always preferred as well.
  • Do not allow grazing all day on favorite foods. Keep a mealtime routine of 3 meals and 2 snacks per day and limit meals to under 30 minutes.

If he is not eating meats, make tofu in sauces that he likes, since it contains protein and will absorb any flavors you add to it. Or serve beans (BBQ, baked, black, etc) as an alternate source of protein. For fruits, make milkshakes and smoothies using blended fruit or yogurt. Be creative in trying to incorporate new foods, while maintaining adequate nutrition.