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Toddler Picky Eaters: How P.R.A.I.S.E. Can Help

Learn how to navigate feeding toddler picky eaters and enjoy the process with the P.R.A.I.S.E. Method.

Does your toddler refuse new foods or foods he used to like when he was a baby?

Raising a picky eater can be frustrating. Battles at the table are disruptive and meal-stress affects the entire family.

You’re stressed after a busy day and tired of making separate meals.

But you’re not alone. In a study of 88 siblings, parents described 68% of the kids as picky eaters.

So how do you get a toddler picky eater to eat?

Use P.R.A.I.S.E.

P.R.A.I.S.E. stands for patience, reaction, autonomy, interference, structure and expectations.

Learn how to use P.R.A.I.S.E. as a strategy to shift your mindset.

The P.R.A.I.S.E. Method can help parents handle toddler picky eaters better.

Patience

The picky eating phase begins around age 2 and can last until age 6. So you need to have patience.

The phase can last 4 years, and progress is usually slow. One day your toddler tries a new food and the next day he might refuse it again.

Don’t give up!

Be patient. You’ll feel better about the process, and so will your toddler.

Reactions

Frustration, anger, despair and even hopelessness are not uncommon when you’ve been dealing with picky eating. Those feelings are understandable.

But it’s important not to react to your child’s picky eating.

Maybe you’re commenting on eating, bribing, and negotiating with your toddler at the table.

Or maybe you think the only way to get your toddler to eat is by showing your disapproval or disappointment.

But reacting to your fussy toddler probably hasn’t changed his eating behavior.

Your child’s reaction to new foods isn’t the only source of meal-stress and food power struggles. Your reaction is a big factor in the family’s mealtime environment.

Don’t comment about your child’s eating (good or bad) and respect your child’s food preferences and appetite.

So, when your child refuses to eat something, calmly take the food away.

Remain as neutral as possible.

Autonomy

Your picky toddler needs to have some independence. So allow him more autonomy at meals and snacks.

Help your child build autonomy by encouraging his ownership over food decisions and eating. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • Let him feed himself. Offer finger food so he’s able to eat on his own.
  • Give your child a choice of food. Offer two similar items and let your child choose which one he wants. For example, ask him if wants toast or crackers. Or give him a choice between strawberry or blueberry yogurt,
  • Allow your child to refuse to eat. When your child refuses to eat something, let him not eat it. Don’t create a big ordeal. And never force him to eat.

Autonomy is the end goal for all eaters, so allow your child to explore, taste and discover food.

The definition of P.R.A.I.S.E. for picky toddler eaters.

Interference

Don’t interfere when your toddler’s eating, unless he needs help. That means while he’s eating:

  • Don’t wipe his face
  • Don’t ask him to take another bite
  • Don’t beg him to finish
  • Don’t force-feed him

His motor skills are still developing, Eating on his own is going to be messy but stay hands off. Wait until the meal is over to clean it up.

So what if he has oatmeal all over his face? Encouraging him to eat on his own is more important. After he’s finished eating, give him the choice to clean his own face. Show him how to do it and maybe have him sit in front of a mirror so he can see himself wipe his face.

Is your child only eating one food item and neglecting everything else on the plate? Don’t say a word.

Interfering when your child eats distracts him from how food tastes, smells and feels in his tummy. Over time, he may lose motivation to eat.

Allow your toddler to eat independently, even if that means making a mess or not finishing his meal.

Structure

The timing of meals and snacks is very important. Toddlers love predictability.

What time do you serve breakfast, lunch and dinner?

What time are you serving his 3 snacks for the day?

Be on time, consistent and predictable with the same routine. It builds security for them.

Pick out a regular place they can eat their meals and snacks and be consistent. Have your child sit in the same place and in the same chair with no distractions.

Distractions like watching TV, playing with toys or eating at a cluttered table disturb appetite cues. Your child won’t be able to experience the taste and texture of food when he’s distracted.

Paying attention during meals and snacks will help build a connection between food and how food feels in his belly. He’ll learn what it feels to be satisfied and be aware of the desire to stop eating.

So turn off the television and put the toys away while your toddler eats.

Expectations

Keep your expectations realistic.

Toddlers go on food jags and want the same foods over and over again. Food jags are common. Don’t worry that your child wants a hotdog every day for a few days or weeks. It’s temporary.

Food refusal is also very common. They suddenly stop eating foods they loved as babies. It’s confusing and frustrating. But very common.

It’s not unusual for toddlers to experience neophobia, the fear of new food. In other words, they may be hesitant to try new foods they’ve never seen before.

Be patient. 

Your toddler needs a warm-up period. They need to see new foods, touch them, and play with them before they want to try them.

Let go of expectations. Don’t lose hope. Your child will eventually try new foods and accept them.

Remember, the acronym P.R.A.I.S.E. will keep you calmer and help you sail through picky eating faster and with a little less frustration.

Food battles with toddler picky eaters affect the entire family. Change your mindset and create a positive experience for everyone at the table.

Try these strategies to help you stay sane at meal time!

Need More Help with Feeding Toddlers?

These articles help you dive in deeper:

Or, head over to our on demand library of videos and booklets about child nutrition and feeding kids.

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