We know it can be confusing when your now-toddler starts to get fussy with food. Is it picky eating or typical toddler behavior? Perhaps you’ve struggled with feeding your child for a while, and you’re not sure if you should seek help for true picky eating. Below are some questions to help you determine which of our resources would best meet your needs.
Note: If your toddler is struggling with the transition to chewable foods from spoon feeding or purées, check out Purees to Finger Food for how to navigate the transition and help your toddler build the oral motor skills needed to chew and move food around in the mouth.
What does toddler selectivity look like?
Most children need a strong foundation of a mealtime schedule, routines, and boundaries to develop eating skills.
In general, the following characteristics are common in toddlerhood and best managed by the strategies discussed in our Toddler guides
Struggles to get into or remain seated in the high chair
Tantrums when favorite foods are not offered
Inconsistently refuses vegetables or proteins
Eats a small amount and then says “all done” or leaves the table
Shows preferences for certain foods or food groups
Eats well at some meals and poorly at others
Eats well at daycare/with caregivers and poorly at home or vice-versa
Eats some foods on the plate but will not taste/try everything
What makes picky eating different from toddler selective eating?
Picky eating takes toddler selectivity to a new level. Picky eating is often related to underlying issues like anxiety or fear around food and/or meals, sensory processing, or developmental delay.
Children who exhibit picky eating behaviors need slow, consistent change and challenges balanced with love and additional accommodation to learn to tolerate a typical mealtime environment and explore new foods.
The level of support required for picky eating is often too much for typically developing selective toddlers. It’s important to assess your toddler’s behaviors and determine whether the behavior is typical and age-appropriate or not, as the support required for picky eating may worsen toddler selective behavior and rigidity, preventing them from making progress.
Let’s walk through some questions to help you understand which resources your child will benefit from the most.
Young toddlers (12-18 months)
This age group is tricky, as most kids at this age are showing signs of typical toddler selectivity, not picky eating. To determine if your young toddler is truly struggling with picky eating, first consider these questions:
1) Is the toddler coming to the table hungry?
Do they graze or snack frequently?
Do they drink more than 16 ounces of cow’s milk or milk alternatives per day?
Do they drink bottles or nurse frequently throughout the day or night?
Do they lack a consistent mealtime schedule?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, the child is likely not coming to the table hungry. Check out the toddler bundle for help establishing hunger and mealtime rhythms.
2) Do you offer the child a wide variety of foods, including foods you eat?
If the answer is NO, start with the strategies in the Toddler guides to establish foundational habits, which should steadily improve the child’s eating habits.
If, however, your child is coming to the table hungry, AND you offer a wide variety of foods, AND your child exhibits some of the following behaviors, check out our picky eating resources.
Refusing to eat or explore foods for several (3+) months
Only eats fewer than 10 foods consistently
Cries when they see or sit in the high chair. Changing the environment. Sitting on a parent’s lap, eating somewhere else does not help.
Gags on most foods, not only challenging-to-chew foods
Needs screens, toys, distractions, hand feeding, or pressure to eat even a few bites of food
Older toddlers/children (18 months+)
Start with the picky eating bundle if your child…
Is willing to starve themselves rather than eat a non-favorite food
Exhibits specific sensory sensitivities and/or challenges such as refusal to have messy hands, won’t touch wet or messy textures, or hates having hands washed, face washed, teeth brushed, etc.
Shows signs of severe anxiety at the table—i.e., exhibits more intense or different meltdowns/tantrums compared to other meltdowns that may occur at other times of the day
Behavior and refusal are consistent—i.e., refusal/behavior doesn’t come and go meal-to-meal, day-to-day, week-to-week, or from one caregiver to another
Will not touch or interact with food at all even with low/no pressure and ample opportunities to go at their own pace. Note: Throwing food counts as interacting.
Has exhibited refusal behaviors and/or eating issues for 4-6 months+.
General considerations (all ages)
Consider the picky eating bundle if…
You feel like you can’t stop [nursing, bottles, hand-feeding, distractions, and/or pressure] or the child will not eat.
Child will only eat certain brands or types of food–i.e., Kraft macaroni and cheese but not Annie’s, dinosaur chicken nuggets and not standard, cheese from a red packet but not blue.
The child will completely refuse a meal (even a preferred food) if it is on the plate with or touching a new or disliked food.
You are stressed about how your child will behave at meals or if they will eat at a meal. Meals and eating are the hardest part of parenting the child or you panic at the thought of eating out with your family or going to a friend or family’s house for dinner if you don’t have something specific to cater to your child.
Questions? Email [email protected], and we’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.
Gain access to all picky eating guides + course videos by purchasing our Reverse Picky Eating bundle for a one time fee. Appropriate for ages 18 months to 6 years old. Access to the guides and videos never expires; once you purchase the bundle, you will have access for life.
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