Picky eating can often feel like a battle, but there are days where your kid’s normal levels of head-shaking, sealed lips and mealtime tantrums seem to shoot off the charts. So what do you do when your little one is hunkered down and ready to refuse everything?
Start with the list below! As parents ourselves, these are the items that we recommend (and keep stocked in our own kitchens) to help prevent, manage or respond to picky eater emergencies.
1. Letter Cookie Cutters
These fun cookie cutters can turn any meal into an opportunity for learning. Although they’re designed for cookies, you can easily use them at the table, too! Let your little one press them into cauliflower mashed potatoes or even “paint” them with their favorite sauce to spell out words on their plate.
Why we love this option: By turning food into a tool for spelling, you’ll take some of the focus off the food itself, reducing the pressure of eating and making mealtime more interactive, laid back and fun.
2. Egg Molds
When it comes to sparking interest in food for picky eaters, sometimes a little jazzed-up presentation is all it takes. From robots to cats to unicorns, these creative egg molds will get your little ones excited for breakfast. If they’re old enough, your kids can even help out with the preparation—whether that means washing veggie toppings, cracking the eggs or taking the plates to the table.
Why we love this option: Getting your child involved with meals (beyond sitting down to eat) can help foster an interest in food and make them feel more invested. And who doesn’t love an adorable egg robot?
3. Mini Play Mat
If you’re wondering how to get a picky toddler to eat, this mini play mat could be the answer. Divided into high-lipped sections, this suction-cupped play mat keeps foods separated (a big plus for many picky eaters) and allows your little one to choose what to eat and what to mix.
Why we love this option: Making your child’s meal more tactile and independent is a great step toward reducing stubborn food refusals. The suction cups also help keep the mess in check!
4. Game Dinner Trays
Similar to the mini play mat, these game dinner trays are a creative way to make meals more fun while also ensuring that different foods don’t touch. Build up some suspense to encourage your little one to reach the prize box at the end, which is the perfect size for a thoughtful portion of your kid’s favorite healthy sweets.
Why we love this option: Kids love games, but distracting them with the TV or iPad often worsens their attention at mealtime, giving them even less incentive to eat. By turning the meal itself into the game, you can add fun that still focuses on food.
5. Spinning Plate
This spinning plate is another interesting way to approach the problem of how to get your kid to eat. Just fill the eight components with different foods (both favorites and more adventurous options), and then let your child spin the plate to determine the order of eating. The spin adds an element of chance and excitement to mealtime, with separated sections that keep different foods from touching.
The key to this strategy is to make sure that your child understands that they have to eat whatever the spinning plate lands on. To get started, try using seven accepted foods and only one “scary” food, and then slowly work your way up to a more even ratio of familiar and new foods.
Why we love this option: This spinning plate shows your child exactly what to expect—even the foods they don’t want. There’s no hiding the veggies here, so you’re teaching your little one to anticipate and deal with negative emotions. Eventually, this open communication will help change your picky eater’s mind about previously rejected foods.
6. Familiar Foods
One of the most important things to remember is that every picky eater is different. Some kids love fun plates and other tools, but other children don’t seem to care at all. The best way to help your child overcome picky eating is to be patient and persistent.
If you’re stuck while trying to plan kid-friendly meals for picky eaters, sometimes the best option is what’s comfortable. For the days or weeks where seemingly no progress is being made, we recommend having familiar foods on hand—like Nurture Life’s ready-to-enjoy baby and kids meals.
One note, though: we don’t recommend offering our meals after your child has refused something else. To set boundaries, it’s important to establish that you won’t serve something else just because your kid says no.
Why we love this option: Overcoming picky eating can be a slow process, and it’s helpful to give your child a break from all the new, new, new. Picky eater techniques that incorporate familiar foods can encourage your little one to try new things without getting overwhelmed.
7. Milton the Mealtime Companion
Milton is a super-cute silicone table buddy that encourages kids to try new foods. You can feed Milton, push his cheeks to “chew” the food and demonstrate how delicious it is. Your child can feed Milton, too, to get more acquainted with a food’s texture, color and smell before trying it themselves.
Why we love this option: You can’t always tell when your little one will decide to say no to a previously accepted food. This mealtime friend is helpful because you can bring him in right in the middle of a picky eater emergency—without changing the meal presentation or resorting to offering a new meal. When all else fails, Milton may save the day!
Still have questions about how to get a picky toddler to eat a greater variety of nutritious foods? Reach out to our child nutrition experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.