Getting a toddler who is a picky eater to eat dinner or any other meal can be one of the most frustration times parenting a child. When you are on the sixth course and your toddler shakes his head no-no for the sixth time, it can make you feel like screaming. You know that if your toddler doesn’t eat, he is going to wake up hungry in the middle of the night. Going through this repeated occurrence with our toddler Jake (who was a picky eater but grew out of it, then grew back into it), we learned a couple of very important lessons. First, for a toddler, feeding is not about the food item in front of him, it is the entire eating experience. Second, the kid’s desired experience will continually change. What he likes on Monday, he might not like on Wednesday. When I say feeding is not about the specific food item but about the overall experience, I am talking about all the variables and factors that are present at dinner or meal time. These factors include but are not limited to: • The specific food offered • The number of food items offered at one time • The serving dish the food is on • The utensils the toddler has to eat with • The people present during meal time • The mood and attitude of parents during dinner • The surrounding distractions during meals By modifying and experimenting with these factors when your toddler won’t eat, you stand a better chance of feeding success. Let’s look at some of the details around the factors mentioned above and how to modify the total experience to help resolve your feeding issues. Food Offered Sometimes your toddler won’t eat what is in front of them because he doesn’t like the taste, the appearance, or is just exercising his new found independence. Unfortunately, if your child tries something and does not like the taste, I have found there is little to be done except trying the same food another time. Saying no without tasting the food can be a sign of the terrible two’s. Your job as a parent is to offer a select balanced diet for a meal and your toddler’s job is to decide what he will eat. If he is hungry, he will eat and in general he will eat enough to sustain him. If your toddler refuses a certain food, you can try offering something else. However, there is a fine line between variety of diet and wasting a pantry full of opened, uneaten food. When your child is old enough to communicate with yes and no, show them the food item without opening it and ask if they want it. Your child might love a food item one day and refuse to taste it the next and we will probably never know the reasoning. However, we have found some tricks that might distract the toddler into trying the food in front of him. Number of Food Items Offered If you are having feeding issues, try changing the number of food items on the child’s plate. Sometimes they will eat something if there is another choice next to it. This gives them freedom to exercise their decision making. Don’t overload him with choices and put out six items to choose from. With our toddler three items is the max at one time and 1 to 2 items works best. Experiment with your child to find their magic number. The Serving Dish Changing the dish that food is served on has been a miracle trick with our toddler. Who would have thought that Jake would not eat his mac and cheese from his fancy three partition plate, but will wolf it down when placed on a paper plate or directly on the highchair table. The Utensils Sometimes our child wants to eat with a spoon, sometimes with a baby fork, sometimes with an adult fork, and sometimes with his hands. This has been another miracle solution for our family. When he won’t eat something, we give him a different utensil, and generally he starts eating. We have had really good luck with a mini metal baby fork. He loves trying to get the food on the fork. The People Present When extra people come by that a toddler is not used to eating around, they can be distracting to the meal process and derail a feeding. It’s hard to be rude and not let people be around, but be aware extras might cause issues. Mood and Attitude of Parents The mood and attitude of parents are a major factor in the feeding process. When a parent is frustrated with trying to get their child to eat, the toddler can pick up on these queues and become frustrated as well. Children are very sensitive to their parent’s attitudes. If you are rushing around or angry, it can be distracting to your child and disrupt productive feeding. Surrounding Distractions Surrounding distractions can benefit or derail a feeding. Your toddler might eat better while watching TV (I know – we’re bad parents) or the dog or he might be totally distracted and want to get down to play with the distraction. To sum it up, there is not sure fire way to get a toddler to consistently eat to your satisfaction because they are constantly changing what they want. Hopefully this article has presented you with some factors and variables that you can experiment with to positively affect your picky eater’s feedings. There are more factors that haven’t been presented, so be observant during your child’s meals. Experiment with changing factors when your toddler won’t eat and you might be surprised with the outcome.