It’s not easy dealing with picky eaters, and often it starts in the toddler stage. So, what can you do when your toddler only wants junk food? Here are several tips!
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1. Stop Buying Junk Food!
This is the most important. You’ve got to remember that YOU are the parent. I find it interesting that many parents feel they have to teach their child a lesson when it comes to behavior (especially embarrassing public behaviors), but they don’t feel the same way when it comes to food.
Why complain about what your child eats if you don’t want to take steps to remedy it? Is it because you, yourself are addicted to junk food? It’s something worth considering.
Stop buying junk food, and then your toddler can’t eat it. It is the most simple thing to do.
Let your toddler know that the junk is all gone. Out of sight will soon be out of mind.
2. Start Offering Mild Tasting Foods
When your child is too addicted to junk, they will tend to prefer mild foods and sweet foods.
It might be a stretch to go from McDonald’s chicken nuggets to tuna, but your toddler might be willing to eat tenderly boiled or baked chicken lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, maybe a little onion.
3. Do Not Overwhelm Your Child With Options
Make sure that you KISS. Keep It Simple, Stupid! Or as I prefer to say, KEEP IT STUPID SIMPLE!
Only give your toddler 1-3 foods per plate.
This might look like 3 pieces of chicken, 2 florets of broccoli, and a few slices of tomatoes or bell peppers.
Another meal might look like half a banana, a small pancake, and 2 pieces of bacon or sausage.
4. Cut Out Random Snacking
I’m a big fan of kids having a full tummy to help avoid blood sugar crashes and poor behavior. So, I’m not saying cut out snacks completely.
However, you might consider feeding your toddler on a schedule to ensure that he or she develops better eating habits.
This might look like food being offered every 2 hours, or it might mean a meal 3x a day and then a small snack in between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner.
Do not offer anything after dinner. No desserts. This will help ensure a nice hungry tummy for breakfast and may also reduce the risk of cancer!
5. Stop Using Food As Reward
Food is nutrition, and sometimes pleasure. But do not use it as a reward.
Skittles, gummy bears, candies, and other junk food should not be seen as a prize.
Using food as reward can lead to unhealthy eating patterns aside from just a huge love of junk food, such as emotional eating.
Find other ways to reward your child, such as tally marks, stickers, small toys, dance parties, jumping jacks, etc. You’d be surprised how easy it is to motivate a toddler without the use of food.
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6. Make It Colorful
Be sure to keep meals interesting and colorful. Bento boxes are awesome for helping you remember to offer a variety of colors to your toddler.
How about some green grapes with red strawberries and brown chicken?
Or black beans with red tomatoes and purple carrots?
Pancakes might be pared with yellow banana slices and a small glass of orange juice.
7. Give Your Child A Dip
Dips can be super fun and interesting for kids. And they don’t have to require much of your time!
A dollop of ketchup, ranch dressing, mayonnaise, even butter or peanut butter can do the trick.
Your child might even like dipping their veggies in garlic infused olive oil. Or marinara sauce. Or homemade gravy.
Every child is different, and it’s worth exploring a variety of dips!
8. Severely Limit Juice/Milk
It’s probably best to stay away from juice altogether, unless your toddler is sick. At those times, orange juice is a great way to hide vitamin C!
Juices and milk fill toddlers with tons of calories that can make it so they don’t even really need food to feel satisfied.
If you must do juices, offer only at meal times and keep it to 4oz (1/2 cup) or less. Even if you are watering down the juices, stick to 4oz max to ensure there’s plenty of space for food.
Between 1-5 years of age, the AAP recommends 16-24 ounces of milk. This equates to 2-3 cups. Don’t give them milk to replace meals. If your child has a very low appetite, try reducing the amount of milk you offer. Perhaps only 4 oz per serving, and perhaps only after major meals rather than all throughout the day.
The AAP also gives other feeding tips you can check out here.
They can drink water at any time, and that should be encouraged over juices.
9. Widen Their Palate
As soon as your child recognizes that no junk food is their new normal and begins eating a wider variety, start introducing more flavorful foods.
When you are doing new food introductions, it works really well to offer at least one or two things that you already know they enjoy or at least will eat.
For example, if you are offering curry chicken or another spicy food, give them only a few pieces and serve with something you know they love like mashed potatoes and carrots.
And if they ask for more of the new food, be sure to give them more!
10. Keep Mealtimes Calm
Don’t make a big fuss about what they are (or aren’t) eating.
Allow your child to control what goes in their mouth and how much, as long as it is from a healthy selection.
This is why it’s a good idea to pair foods you’re not sure if they will eat with at least one or two things that you know they usually eat. This way if they don’t like the new food, you don’t have to worry too much about a replacement.
Don’t be rigid. If your child isn’t feeling well and wants a peanut butter sandwich or only wants to drink liquids or only wants to eat a banana, that’s fine. You can make compromises without giving in to junk and fostering negative attitudes about food for your toddler.
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Try not to yell or say negative things about your toddler’s eating habits.
Your job is to offer healthy foods and keep away the junk. Your child’s job is to do the eating, and decide when he or she is full.
You can also limit mealtime if you want, to somewhere around a half an hour. Unless your child is actively eating at that time, give a warning and then put the food away until the next meal time.
You also don’t have to keep offering the same plate over and over. I personally wouldn’t offer the same plate more than once.
You are the parent and you decide what food comes into your home (and into your child’s lunch box).
It’s easy to feel like if you don’t give in to your toddler’s whims, they won’t eat at all. But that couldn’t be further from the truth! The fact is that kids will eat from what is available as long as they don’t think they’ve got other, better (and for most, junkier) choices.
Make sure that you are offering a variety of healthy options and not making a big deal about mealtimes. Give your child their food and allow them to eat (or not). Don’t overwhelm them with too much food or too many choices.
Let your child know that there won’t be any chips, cakes, candies, crackers, granola bars, popcorn, etc. Instead they will be offered a variety of meats, vegetables, fruits, smoothies, dried fruit, applesauce, etc.
These tips will help you deal with a toddler who only wants junk food without stressing yourself out. I’d love to hear how it goes with your sweet kiddo, and you can let me know by leaving a comment! I’m also interested in hearing any other tips that worked for your kid(s).