Getting Your Toddler to Eat (Healthy!)

How your kids are eating (or not eating) can be a huge cause of stress for parents, especially during the toddler years. Thrown food, dumped plates and the old “gag n’ puke” from an unfamiliar vegetable are not uncommon occurrences during most meals. Though it can bring a lot of added anxiety to the dinner table, pickiness is not an excuse to let your child’s nutrition fall by the wayside. What they eat affects how they feel, play, sleep, and how their bodies function. So, there are few things more important than making sure your young child is getting enough of the right stuff.

Here are a few things that have worked for my family over the past few years:

1. Be “hardcore” early on – There are far worse things to be uptight about than your child’s nutrition. The good thing about being strict during the early years is that your child will develop a taste for food other than sweets and it’s likely that you will struggle less later on. They will also beg you for sweets less if they know it’s not a constant in your household! Aside from a special occasion, toddlers don’t need to eat sweets every day, though they may want to. While it may be fine for older children or adults, it’s a good idea to stay away from daily desserts until good eating habits are well established. There’s plenty of time for ice cream and cake down the road.

2. Give tons of healthy options – If there are five different things on a plate that a child doesn’t like, chances are kids are going to eat at least one of them. Sometimes with toddlers, eating is more about having a part in the decision-making process. Give a few healthy options instead of just one or two and if they eat even one, it’s still a success.

3. Reintroduce foods they don’t like – While you don’t always want to be offering the same things your child doesn’t enjoy eating, it’s not a good idea to avoid them all together. Kids usually have to try a new food at least ten times before they learn to like it. If you kid hates corn, don’t make it every night, but keep it in the rotation at least once a week instead of throwing it out all-together. They may come around after just a few more introductions.

4. Don’t let them snack anywhere near meal time – This is a mistake I made early on, thinking my daughter needed to eat more than she actually did. I found when she only had one small snack after her nap around three o’clock; she usually did a great job with dinner. In fact, I can get her to eat most things when she is really hungry, so making sure they are ready to eat is crucial.

5. Be sneaky – There is nothing wrong with an occasional smoothie, whole-wheat spinach pizza crust or cauliflower mac and cheese. Adding vegetables to ordinary dishes is a great way even for adults to get their nutrients. Of course, you’d like your child to eat those things knowingly, but they may still develop a taste for some of those veggies by eating them this way. If the choice is between sneaking it in and poor nutrition, always, always be sneaky.

6. Don’t provide second options – Your child shouldn’t get to dictate what’s for dinner, you do. So don’t go running into the kitchen every time they reject what you’ve made. It isn’t fair to you and it’s not a good practice to get in the habit of. Make it clear that this is what’s for dinner and if you don’t want it, you will be hungry. If that is made known, there’s a good chance they will ask you for the dinner they rejected a few minutes later when they realize they aren’t getting cheese and crackers.

7. Make sure other caretakers are on the same page – In the early years, having even a few days a week when your child is eating differently than they would at home can cause difficulties when trying to establish good habits. Make sure everyone who may be watching your child is on the same page and knows how you want him/her to be fed. Once again, when their eating habits are in place, probably in a few years, you can be more lenient.

8. Be nosy (in the bathroom) – If your child is not going to the bathroom regularly, or struggling to have a bowel movement, you may want to talk to her pediatrician. A good diet is essential for their bodies to function properly and this may be the first sign they aren’t getting enough of what they need. When small children become constipated, it’s often very painful and larger problems can occur as a result so don’t be afraid to peek before you flush!

Sarah Bregel is a mother, a writer and a women’s personal trainer. She loves yoga, food and wine and believes everything in moderation is the best advice in the world. She lives in Baltimore with her husband, Marshall and their daughter, Piper. She writes about health and wellness at and her parenting journey at

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