Q: My 3-year-old only seems to want macaroni and cheese or bagels and cream cheese at mealtime. What is going on?
A: While it may seem like your child is only eating pasta and bread, most kids do take in a range of foods of each day (try writing down everything your child eats one day—you may be surprised at the variety...a slice of apple here, a carrot stick there, etc.). While many parents see their children as picky eaters, the vast majority of healthy babies and toddlers are meeting all their nutrient needs. So my first piece of advice is to talk with your health care provider to get the assurance that your child is growing fine.
Once you are confident about your child's growth and development, here are some strategies you can try over time to encourage your child to eat and enjoy a broader range of foods. Again remember, these are not necessary for health, but more for lifestyle and adaptability.
- Help your child feel more in control by letting her feed herself.
- Offer 4-5 different foods (in small portions!) and make sure each meal includes some of her favorites. Offer new foods before you give her the "old favorites." Let her decide what and how much to eat of the food you have prepared.
- Don’t give up on new foods. Research has shown that you may have to offer a food between 10 and 15 times before a child will try it and decide whether she likes it or not.
- As your toddler grows, you can make mealtime fun by involving her in food preparation—stirring, pouring, spreading butter on bread, etc. Children may also be more open to trying a food they have helped to make.
- Notice when your child tries something new: “You ate some green beans. I’m so proud of you for trying!” And let your child see you eating a range of foods as well.Most importantly, sit back and relax. Remember that mealtime is a special chance to connect and bond with your child. Making mealtime an enjoyable experience is key to ensuring your toddler gets the nutrition she needs develops healthy eating habits as she grows.