It may seem like you’ve tried everything in the book to get your toddler to explore new foods. Broccoli dunked in ketchup? Check. Letting your kid pick out the funniest looking veggie at the supermarket? Check. Vroom, vroom here comes peas on their favorite race car spoon! Check. Check. Exasperated check.
When none of your tricks to get your picky toddler to eat work, you may start to feel a bit hopeless. Will your little one ever want anything besides cereal and mac and cheese? “A lot of times the parents just give up because they’re exhausted,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician and double-board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine.
Before you throw in the towel, remember this: “[Picky eating is] a common and actually very typical, predictable phase that kids go through. It’s one of the only ways that kids have to exert any control over their environment,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.
So when will this phase, well, phase out? “Picky eating usually gets a little bit better as the child gets older, around four or five years of age,” says Preeti Parikh, MD, a pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital and HealthiNation’s chief medical editor. By that age they’re starting school, so they’ll be exposed to foods that you don’t have at home and eventually start to try things on their own, says Largeman-Roth. Some kids, however, may just be picky eaters into their teen or adult years.
Either way, it’s important to not give up. “It can actually take between 15 and 18 times of introducing a new food for a kid to even try it let alone like it, so persistence is key,” says Largeman-Roth. So just because your kid doesn’t devour sweet potatoes the first time you serve them doesn’t mean he won’t want them eventually.
“A lot of parents feel like feeding their kids is a really thankless job, but it’s so important because you’re really helping them to develop their palate. Introducing those healthy foods early is really vital for getting them on track to be a healthy eater,” says Largeman-Roth.
Along with getting your kids to eat more nutritious foods, it’s also important to make sure they’re eating less of the bad stuff. Here’s how to encourage kids to eat less junk.