Tips to Combat Toddler Food Refusal: Introducing New Foods

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Tips to Combat Toddler Food Refusal: Introducing New Foods

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By Cara Caddy OTR/L TEIS Occupational Therapist

It’s 5 pm again.. dinner time. You walk into the house and the aroma of spaghetti and meatballs hits your nose. Your stomach grumbles and you imagine how wonderful the food will taste.

That is not the reality of life with a toddler!

You look in the freezer- chicken nuggets , again? Crackers? Toast? What do I feed my child?? He has a meltdown every time he sits at the table! He throws his food on the floor!

Here are some quick tips I have learned over the years as an OT and mom.

  1. “Set the mood” for FOOD! 

A lot of times, a toddler’s environment can really impact his willingness to eat, let alone try something new. Set your child up for success by making sure he is seated comfortably, limit distractions at the table like loud music or TV, or limit bright lights.

  1. “It’s all about presentation”  

Carefully consider the amount of food being offered to your child. Its common for toddlers to shut down from the minute they see a food if it doesn’t look or smell “right.” Consider using small clear Tupperware containers or plastic bags and let your little one visually accept the food before even smelling or touching the food.

  1. “Let ME do it!” 

Encourage independence (within reason) – offer child sized forks and spoons, or alternatives to utensils depending upon your child’s age. Instead of a regular sized fork, offer a toothpick or cocktail fork- these are novel items. Let your child make choices, but limit choices to 1 preferred item plus 1 non- preferred food.

  1. “Work the steps”.. to eating!

Eating is a whole body experience that can potentially be very overwhelming for our more difficult eaters. Eating starts with what we see, smell, touch/ feel, before we even taste the food. By starting with “safe” foods and changing little things about what is offered, children can slowly expand their palates.

  1. Get to the root of frustration

Go back to the basics- if your child is limited to a few food choices, that is OK! Lets start with something as simple as crackers- start with expanding the brand or shape of crackers, and progress to “dipping” or putting a spread on a cracker. Offering familiar or safe foods with a more challenging food can help a toddler willingly explore something new.

Finally, take a breath! This parenting thing is hard enough and adding to our stress with difficult eaters can be exhausting. Toddlers are learning so many new skills around eating, and often this is one thing in their life that is within their control. Offering as a many choices as you can around food and other daily routines can truly support your toddlers growth both physically and mentally, as well as giving him a sense of control.

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