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Toddlers & Preschoolers
Last Reviewed: March 2017


Picky eaters

Picky eaters

Healthy young children:

  • May be fussy about their eating
  • May not want to try new foods
  • Often seem very hungry at one meal and not at the next
  • Might eat a large amount one day and much less another day
  • Have favourite and not-so-favourite foods

All of this is normal for a young child.

So what is a picky eater?

A picky eater:

  • Only wants to eat her favourite foods - all the time.
  • Gets upset when a new food is introduced.
  • Cries or gets fussy at the table.
  • Worries when she has to eat away from home.

Why are some children picky eaters?

  • Some children may be fussier about eating and other things like:
    • Not falling asleep easily
    • Disliking changes in their routine
    • Having trouble adjusting to new situations or new people
  • Some children become picky eaters because of past experiences with feeding, such as:
    • Frequent vomiting
    • Colic
    • Their parents pressuring them or using games to make them eat.
    • Introducing solids too early when a child doesn t show signs of readiness.
  • Some children seem fussy from birth and they may be naturally sensitive to taste, smell, food temperature and whether a food is soft or hard.
  • A food that tastes mild to an adult may have a very strong taste to a small child.

How can I help?

  • Eat well and feel good about yourself.
  • Kids learn by watching and listening to their parents and caregivers, so set a good example.
  • Let your child see that you enjoy eating and are comfortable with your body.
  • Show your child that you enjoy mealtimes together and like to try new foods.
  • Get your child involved in grocery shopping. Talk about the foods that you're buying, where they come from and how you will prepare them.

Family mealtimes

  • Eat at home together as a family more often.
  • Enjoy pleasant mealtime conversation.
  • Get your child to help prepare the meal because children who help prepare a meal are more likely to eat it.

Let them help by:

  • Washing vegetables and fruit
  • Cutting soft vegetables and fruit such as mushrooms and bananas with a plastic child-safe knife
  • Tearing lettuce
  • Pouring ingredients and mixing batter
  • Rolling out the dough
  • Lining a muffin tray with paper muffin cups
  • Helping to set the table (e.g. putting paper napkins on the table)

You and your child each have a job to do!

Your job:

  • Plan the menu
  • Decide where your child will eat
  • Decide when meals and snacks will be offered
  • Make meal times enjoyable by eating with your child and including her in conversation
  • Turn off the TV and remove all distractions from the table (toys, books)
  • If your child finishes eating before the rest of your family, encourage her to stay and enjoy mealtime together

When parents do their job, it's easier for children to develop healthy eating habits.

Your child's job:

  • Decide how much she will eat
  • Decide if she will eat
  • Feed herself – with help at first

Children are born knowing when they are hungry and when they are full.  Trust your child.

How can I tell if my child is full?
Your child may tell you she is full by using words or actions, such as

  • Pushing your hand or the spoon away if you try to offer her a bite
  • Pushing the plate away
  • Using words, such as “done”
  • Throwing food or playing with it

Children eat better when there are no distractions and no pressure from parents. Sometimes they don't want to eat at all. Refusing to eat is sometimes a way of taking control. It may have little to do with the actual food. If she has not eaten much after 20 minutes, take away the food without any comments. Don't worry, she can make up for it at the next snack and meal.

Help your child feel good about herself.
Children feel good about themselves when:

  • They are in control of their eating
  • They feel respected
  • Their parents listen to them
  • Their parents respect their choice to eat more or less

Problems start when parents use a 'control' style of parenting to make their child eat.

Menu planning tips

  • Offer a variety of foods from Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (553KB, 5 pages)
  • Canada’s Food Guide is meant for children 2 years of age and older, but can be used as a reference for children ages 1 - 2.
  • Serve small portions and let your child ask for more.
  • When you are offering a new food, make sure there is at least one healthy food on the table that your child usually likes to eat.
  • Provide meals and snacks at regular times each day.
  • Plan at least three meals and at least two snacks each day.

Beverages with meals and snacks

  • Schedule snacks between meals so your child is hungry for the next meal.
  • Don’t allow your child to go to the refrigerator and kitchen cupboards for food whenever she wants (‘grazing’)
  • Children who eat and drink all day long may not be hungry at meal or snack time.
  • Avoid giving milk, juice and other liquids and foods between snacks and meals.
  • If your child is thirsty, offer water from a cup.
  • If you decide to offer your child juice, limit it to 1/2 cup (125mL) of 100% juice per day, offered in a cup (there is no need to dilute juice).
  • Diluted juice will be less nutritious and your child’s teeth will be exposed to natural sugar for a longer period of time if water is added to the juice.
  • It’s best for children to learn to drink juice and water separately, so they get use to the different tastes.
  • After two years of age switch your toddler to the same milk or fortified soy beverage the rest of the family drinks. Fortified rice, potato or almond beverages aren’t appropriate substitutes.

Check out the Cooking Up Some Fun! Cookbook

Picky eaters

When it comes to feeding your children, your goal as a parent is to raise healthy kids who enjoy eating.

Children love being in the kitchen with you and working with food. Let them help you prepare for mealtimes.

When children are young, find tasks that are easy and safe for them (such as putting paper napkins on the table). As children get older, they can become more and more helpful.
The Cooking Up Some Fun (1.8 MB, 30 pages) cookbook will provide you with recipes you and your child can prepare together.

For more information:
Region of Peel - Public Health
Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
to speak with a Public Health Nurse
Caledon residents call free of charge at 905-584-2216

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Revised: Wednesday June 21 2017

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