My Two-Year-Old is a Picky Eater

by jessicaturner on April 25, 2011

When Elias was first eating solid foods, he was not a picky eater.

In fact, he pretty much ate anything.

And I was proud to have one of “those” kids who only ate macaroni and cheese.

Well, pride goes before the fall.

I now have a picky eater.

Seriously, Elias fights us every night. He does fine for breakfast and at school his teachers says he eats everything, but at home, for dinner, no way.

I have to beg to get him to eat a few pieces of chicken.

What are your tips for getting your toddlers to eat their meals?

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca April 25, 2011 at 5:19 am

This is exactly what my niece did and my sister had a nightmare with her. Then one of her friends said ‘fighting’with them to eat just doesn’t help. My sister would just sit there saying “Carys try a piece of this! mmm yum” safe to say she was not fooled. You could make teatime fun like introduce a game? And when Carys did eat something they praised her, clapped etc. After a couple of weeks they soon found she couldn’t wait for ‘game time’ (which was in fact dinner time).


Liz April 25, 2011 at 5:55 am

Kids all go through that phase. I’d say don’t beg and just put the food out for him. When you and your husband are done then clear the table without a word. Don’t give in and give him snacks afterwards and soon he’ll probably begin eating again. It’s a “power” thing for kids I think!!!


Heatherh April 25, 2011 at 6:54 am

I’m wondering if it’s not so much “picky” as just trying to assert his independence with mom and dad. What makes me think that is that he eats everything while at school. I think my 2 year old is doing the same thing- just trying to be independent from mom and dad and make his own decisions, therefore refusing what you try to feed him at dinner. I read a post from a blogger once and she gives her kids choices on a sectioned tray at dinner, things like different veggies to dip, a protein, too. I don’t know if I would ever do that but she said it works fro them because they feel they have choices.


becca April 25, 2011 at 7:02 am

CJ is doing this to us. Some days, I just don’t fight it. Because of my husband’s work schedule, we can’t all eat supper together anyway, so I’ll typically fix something I know the boys will eat without argument, and then fix a meal for my husband and I after Derek is in bed and CJ is off playing. Not ideal, but works for now.

Yesterday, I made something I KNEW he would balk at but we had Easter candy! So, I told him he had to eat all of his supper (I gave him a smaller portion) and then a pear, and if he ate ALL of it, he could have 2 jelly beans. Worked like a charm and we had a major cheering session after he finished.

In my opinion (and you know how opinions are!…we all have them!) but, in my opinion, I wouldn’t fight him too hard right now, he’s eating well at school and that’s GREAT! He has alot coming up for him with the baby coming, so we just took a more laid back approach when CJ started doing that when I was preggo with Derek.

Also, my boys ALWAYS always eat better for their Grandparents than they do for us (veggies), but I always have my mainstay in that they will always eat fruit. They eat fruit with every single meal.

Oh, and try dipping if you don’t already! Dipping always makes it more fun for a preschooler.


Lori April 25, 2011 at 7:56 am

You might find this series helpful –

I heard about this through the Meal Makeover Moms podcast they did in February of this year about the Science of Picky Eating. Their website and books are a great resource for recipes and tips

Elias may also not be very hungry at dinner time either. Maybe he fills up a lot during the day? Or he’s tired so he’s less likely to want to listen or do what you want him to do. Offer choices to him, two options that are fine with you but he gets to pick.

And I agree, dipping is a huge hitting in our house. Sour cream and spaghetti sauce are the favorite options.

Good luck!


Laura April 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

My son does the same thing! They say that he cleans his plate at school. I have decided that he is getting 2 good meals a day so it’s not even worth the fight for dinner. We make him sit at the table with us and put a little bit of everything that we are having on his plate. One day, he will decide to try dinner!


Debbie April 25, 2011 at 8:20 am

You know what Dr Thompson always said…don’t worry they EAT when they are hungry….I like the dipping idea…the otherr is try no snack in the house till dinner, (even the grown ups or after dinner)..till he goes to bed…….they are good and hungry by dinner…..this is the time when the “face” sandwich came into play…I know he cant have peanut butter…but maybe cheese to build the face on….and its full of protein , and banana’s , raisins, carrots,…..then he can eat the mouth,,then eat the nose..and he can build the face some nights himself…..when its a game he will have fun with it.


Jessica Kelley April 25, 2011 at 9:06 am

I’m in the same boat. Kate will eat pizza and pasta and all the fruit you could put in front of her, but meats are hit-or-miss and she can even sniff out vegetables in disguise. I’m frustrated about the veggie thing, but so long as she eats at school and isn’t filling up on junk, I guess we’ve just got to keep putting it in front of her and wait it out!


Sarah K April 25, 2011 at 9:24 am

We went through the same thing after Isaiah turned two! He’s still a very picky eater at the age of 3 even though he did great when it was a pureed food diet as a baby. I agree with previous comments that it really is a phase that a lot of kids go through at this age. We tried doing the “you have to try just one bite” battle and wouldn’t let him leave the table until he did. Well, two hours later, he was still at the table and nothing was accomplished. It became more about a power struggle than the food. For now, we’ve decided we’re just going to keep serving meals and if he eats, he eats. If he doesn’t, he isn’t going to starve. I try to sneak veggies into foods I know he likes (like pureed carrots into spaghetti sauce) and we overkill on the fruit (smoothies!!) to try to balance out what his pickiness is keeping out of his diet. So far, it’s working as well as it can!


Tracey Roden April 25, 2011 at 10:00 am

My 2 year old is doing the exact same thing! He was such a good eater…now…UGH! I spoke with his dr. about it at his check-up. She said that if they were good eaters when they first started table food that more than likely they well grow out of the picky toddler phase. Oh, I hope so!


Susan April 25, 2011 at 11:53 am

Here is a couple of things I have learned over the years. I watched my sister-in-law fight with her kids at dinner enough times that I knew I didn’t want that tension in our home when we were all tired and hungry.
So I reassured myself that they were eating good breakfasts and lunches. I required that we all sit at the table together, sharing about our day, but no mention was made about having to have some. Funny, how often they joined in when there was no pressure.
Also make sure that if they don’t eat, that you don’t offer a snack after dinner. They will hold out and eat snacky foods and soon you will find yourself becoming a short order cook. My neighbor gave me the cutest framed print that read:
You have two choices for dinner, 1. Take it 2. leave it.
I am not a big fan of praising them when they eat either, it still adds to the power stuggle, and it encourages over eating…food and praise should not go together.
helping to make the dinner helps also. adding heathy toppings to an open face sandwhich, or on top of cottage cheese is fun, and healthy and they like to eat their creations. hope some of this helps.


Marsha April 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm

I raised 5 kids and I now have 4 grandchildren who are a delight, but who also go through these picky eating stages. Mostly, they are just not hungry. I agree with some of the suggestions made here. Put the food in front of him and let him know that it’s okay if he’s not hungry now, but not to ask for food later. And please, don’t make them clean their plate. Unlike adults, children know when they are full and will stop eating! Give them small portions of new foods to “try” and don’t worry if they don’t like them at first. Tastes change and you can try it again another time.

We sometimes had dessert first, like jello with whipped cream. Something that would wet their appetite. Even if that’s all they ate, they didn’t leave the table hungry.

Have a happy week!


Kim April 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm

I do daycare in my home so I can stay home with my 2 kids. 2 of the kiddos I babysit are amazing eaters for me…. they never (and I’m not lying) never leave a bite of food on their plate- and there is never an argument over it. One is 23 months and the other is 3 years old. When they are home, though, it’s a different story. Their mom is lucky if she gets 5 bites of food in them. It’s all about expectations and consistency. The boys know that they may not get down from the table until their food is gone (I give appropriate sized portions, so no need to get all riled up :) ), and they may not have anything else the rest of the day until their lunch is gone.
I take pictures of their plates before and after they eat and their mom simply cannot believe it. :)
Good luck with Elias. He’s absolutely adorable. :)


Dana J April 25, 2011 at 2:39 pm

We play the “x” more bites game. For instance, if my daughter does not want to eat her peas but she wants to go outside after dinner I tell her “you need to eat 3 more bites of your peas then you can go outside”. We also use her favorite foods as reward- for instance she loves applesauce so I’ll tell her if she eats so many bites of whatever is on her plate I will give her some applesauce. Works for us every time :) But she is also not an extremely picky eater so it may be easier for us?

Good luck with finding ways to get him to eat.


Cindy April 25, 2011 at 4:05 pm

As hard as it seems…don’t worry. He isn’t in a real growth spurt right now and unlike us grown-ups kids eat for nutrition and need, not really for pleasure. I had the same problem with my daughter at that age and this was the advice I got from her doctor. She’ll eat when she gets hungry. So will Elias. Offer what you and your husband have for supper if he wants something after you finish. I would advise not offering him another choice. That is a hard habit to break. Hope this helped!!


LauraP April 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I don’t know if there’s much more to add – these are all great suggestions and a lot of great support! My daugher is 2 months younger than Elias and is expecting a baby brother in a few weeks, so I’m sure what’s goign on at our house is similar to yours!

She eats GREAT at daycare – breakfast and lunch. Lately, she’s been eating great at home, too, but she also just had a growth spurt and put on a few inches! However, she is picky/stubborn/doesn’t always want to eat. However, she has to eat a few bites of her protein and at least finish her milk before she can leave the table, and this seems to work. If she gets hungry later, she can have something healthy – fruit, veggies, or yogurt, but that’s it.

We also found that it takes her a bit to get going at dinner. My husband and I are hungry and jump right in, but my daughter needs some time to just get in the groove with eating. Sometimes, she doesn’t start eating until we are almost done. But, that’s OK – we sit with her and talk and catch up on our day, so I think it’s worth it!


Nurse Bee April 25, 2011 at 4:56 pm

My daughter (a few months younger than Elias) is the same way. She always eats breakfast and lunch great, but usually 5 out of 7 nights eats very little of her dinner. We don’t fight her too much on it. The one thing I refuse to do is to make her a seperate meal for dinner, I just figure if she’s really hungry she will eat!!


Samantha @ Mama Notes April 25, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Lucas goes through stages. Sometimes he eats a ton, other times not… I don’t really force anything and I let him eat what he wants, in moderation of course! :)


Cara April 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Lots of toddlers don’t eat dinner because they’ve eaten enough the rest of the day which it sounds like he’s doing too – which is great!
I’d be careful not to beg or praise when he does eat – you don’t want to over-emphasize food and put “values” on it if it makes sense. That can lead to food issues for kids later. I would just offer him what you’re eating, and if he doesnt want any, oh well. You know he gets enough the rest of the time.
Plus toddlers eating ebbs and flows – there are times my 2 year old eats a Tom at every meal and other times when I feel like she is hardly eating ever. An rats just normal toddler behavior.
You’re certainly not doing anything wrong:). He’s just two!:)


Cara April 25, 2011 at 6:51 pm

Oh iPhone correcting – oy! She eats a ton and “that’s” normal not rats:)


Sheree April 25, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I ran into this problem with both of mine. My philosophy became, if you are hungry, you will eat it. After they were picked up at daycare, I made sure not to allow too much sugary snacking, only water and maybe a few carrots to get them through until dinner. Breakfast may not be an issue because Elias is so hungry it’s not worth fighting about. Mine are now 6 and 10, and I still work things the same way. Keep snacking to a minimum, allow all the water they want, at dinner you may eat or not, it’s up to them. Good luck!!


Amber April 25, 2011 at 8:52 pm

I think it is NEVER a good idea to get into a power struggle with a toddler – no one wins those battles. Food is meant to help our bodies grow – it is not meant to be used as leverage over your child’s choices or a reward for behaviors you desire. I think the best way is to cook ONE meal that will be served to your entire family. Give around 20 – 30 minutes for the meal. Give a gentle reminder when there is 5 minutes left that the meal will be ending soon. Then have them help you clear the uneaten food and dishes away. Your clear choice that this is what we are serving and this is the time alloted for it will allow your child to make some choices too – how much – (if any) they would like to eat.


Beth May 1, 2011 at 10:22 am

I read once that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up by trying to provide a “square meal” at each and every meal. Since kids this age do not need very much food at once, it is fine to try to balance his meals throughout the day, or even, throughout the week. So if you get fruit down him one day and veggies the next, it is ok. If he is eating well at lunch, he simply may not be hungry at night. My twins are picky eaters as well and they will often eat very well one day, and the next day, barely a bowl of cereal. They are 10 now and are doing great but still are only really hungry every other day or so. Don’t get me wrong, we feed them, but they just simply do not eat very much every single day. I also know that you have to get them used to new foods by introducing them slowly. It may be that you start out giving him a new food by simply putting some on his plate and let him get used to seeing it but not actually eating it. Then you can progress to putting it on a spoon or fork and let him raise it to his mouth. This may last several days but eventually he may actually eat the food, but don’t expect a picky eater to eat it the first time they see it. It also helps for them to see you eating it and maybe even just eat a bite off of your plate without putting any of it on his.
I read in the comments that Elias can’t have peanut butter? Is he allergic? My twins are as well and I really think that having anaphylaxis to food(s) can really put a kink in their eating.


Jola July 2, 2011 at 12:18 pm

My son is 21 months and has multiple and very severe food allergies so he is very limited in what foods he can eat. But we were doing well with all the foods made from scratch. He is very tall but really skinny. And now he just became such a picky eater. I have been “fighting” to get him to eat butbi like the idea to just put the food out and let him pick.. It’s the dog we will havevto watch ;-). We found some quite regular snacks my son can have but other than fruit and coconut yoghurt… They are going away… No more chips for now. That way I hope that Konrad will get hungry and eat! Don’t others feel like they just want to scream?



odloty April 11, 2013 at 12:48 pm

When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the
same comment. Is there any way you can remove
me from that service? Appreciate it!


jessicaturner April 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

No one has posted on this post in 2 years, so I have no idea why you are getting emails. Sorry, I wish I could help.


Keenan Flenniken February 17, 2014 at 10:17 am

very interesting details you have posted


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