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Health & Parenting

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Your Toddler: Nutritious Meals for Picky Eaters - Topic Overview

Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. They may only eat a few foods, then abruptly refuse them. Toddlers also have rapidly changing appetites. Although toddlers grow steadily throughout their second year, their growth rates are less dramatic than during the first year, which often is reflected in how much they eat. Children this age may eat robustly one day and very little the next, but they usually eat the right amount to meet their caloric needs.

Toddlers are just beginning to understand that they can make their own decisions. Their need for independence and control often interferes with mealtime and eating.

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There are two basic "rules" for feeding your child:

  • You decide what, when, and where to feed your child.
  • Your child decides how and whether to eat.

More specifically, it can help to:

  • Find at least one food from each food group that your child likes and make sure it is readily available most of the time. Children tend to accept new foods gradually, and you may have to introduce a food many times before your child actually tries it.
  • Model good nutrition for your children. Do not regularly keep less nutritious foods (for example, those that have large amounts of fats or sugar) in the house. If you eat these foods but try to withhold them from your toddler, the child will learn that these foods are highly desirable. The child may sneak these foods, beg for them, or simply view them as wonderful.
  • Limit the amount of fruit juice you give your child. Juice does not have the valuable fiber that whole fruit has. Unless the label says the drink has only 100% juice, beware that many fruit drinks are just water, a little juice flavoring, and a lot of added sugar. If you must give juice, water it down. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises no more than 4 fl oz (120 mL) to 6 fl oz (180 mL) of 100% fruit juice a day for children 1 to 6 years old.1

You can help prevent mealtime battles by planning ahead and being aware of common issues.

  • Provide a variety of nutritious foods for children, at reasonably timed meals and at the dinner table.
  • Allow your child to select which foods to eat from among those you have provided. Let your child decide when he or she is finished eating. Stay out of these decisions.
  • Don't use food as a reward.
  • Consider family meals to be pleasant social events that bring the family together, not functional events at which a child feels obligated to eat.
  • Let hunger, not rules or pleading or bargaining, determine what and how much your child eats (within the boundaries of what you make available).

For more information on strategies to help your child eat well, see the topic Healthy Eating for Children.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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