Why Do Toddlers Become Picky Eaters? Experts Explain What Happens

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Feeding your children is never as simple as it seems. As babies they can be fussy eaters, but you know as long as they're getting enough breast milk or formula, they’ll be OK. As they get older and you introduce solids, you may find them eager to try new foods. They may innocently sit on their high chairs, and eat whatever you feed them. But once they hit their toddler stage, you may notice them refusing to eat certain foods they liked before. So what is it about this age that makes them finicky? Why do toddlers become picky eaters?

Romper reached out to Pennsylvania pediatrician Dr. Jarret Patton for an answer. He says that picky eating is something that can start at an early age. “Those infants that are not given foods they don't prefer will grow into toddlers that are pickier.” He explains that with toddlers, it mainly comes down to choice, and if they are given a choice in what they eat, they will only eat the things they prefer. On the other hand, he adds, if toddlers are not given a choice, they will eat the food given to them.

According to the website for Ask Dr. Sears, kids between the ages of 1 to 3 years old tend to be picky about their food due to developmental reasons. The website explained that by this age, their weight gain slows down (as compared to their first year), so they will need less food. Then, as toddlers become more mobile with their crawling and walking, they go into exploration mode and may prefer snacking throughout the day over sitting down for a full meal.

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Around the age of 18 months, toddlers begin differentiating their preferences and start to form their likes and dislikes. This could be because they begin developing the need for autonomy and control, explained What To Expect. This new found freedom to make decisions may drive their choices when it comes to food. They could be pickier at mealtime because they don’t want to try new foods and flavors, or because they have sensitive taste-buds and prefer some foods over others.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Healthy Children website explained that pickiness at mealtime is just a normal part of toddler development, and it’s normal to see a toddler prefer eating only certain foods for weeks, or eating just one big meal, showing no interest in eating the rest of the day. Just expect to see your toddler's food preferences changing from one day to the next, the article noted, but keep offering them healthy food options until they reach an equilibrium.

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Eventually, mentioned the AAP, toddlers will find foods they like without any parental persuasion, and keeping them exposed to healthy options will ensure they choose from that selection. The website also noted that because children don’t fully develop their chewing abilities until they reach age 4, it’s important to choose foods that are smaller and easier to chew, avoiding foods that they can choke on. The website for Ask Dr. Sears recommended offering your toddler a nibble tray that features a variety of healthy foods so that your toddler can pick and choose what they like and snack throughout the day.

You can also try different preparation methods and add seasonings if you think that it will help. My daughter had texture aversions as a child, so I mashed fruits like avocados and bananas on toast to make them more palatable for her. I’ve learned that feeding a toddler requires a lot of patience and consistency, but as your child grows and matures, mealtime should get easier and become more enjoyable for both you and your kids.

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