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10 Tips for Handling Your One-Year-Old's Picky Eating

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Don't you love it when you work your tail off to cook a delicious meal you're sure everyone will enjoy, only to see your one-year-old reject it? No? Of course not! What's the deal with picky eaters? Why do they like carrots one day just to hate them the next?


One-year-olds learn to express independence in multiple ways, but the only two areas they have nearly complete control of are using the bathroom and eating. Sometimes, picky eating is an expression of that newfound independence, but it can also be a sensory issue, stress, or gut discomfort.


In this article, we'll talk about picky eating challenges and ways to overcome them.

Picky Eater Problems

When your baby goes from an enthusiastic eater willing to try anything to a picky eater snubbing half of what you offer him, it's natural to feel concerned, frustrated, and confused (not necessarily in that order). What is going on?


Picky eating may result from being introduced to lumpy food after nine months old, pressure to eat, eating something different from the parents most of the time, problems swallowing or breastfeeding early on, and parents worrying excessively over why their baby or toddler isn't eating enough (source).


If none of these possibilities suit your one-year-old's case, read on!

Is It Normal for my One-Year-Old to be a Picky Eater?

Yes! Around 25-35% of toddlers and preschoolers are considered picky eaters by their parents (source). Though "picky eater" hasn't been defined qualitatively, parents of picky eaters know what it means!


Picky eating can appear seemingly overnight. Some parents say their child becomes a picky eater after their toddler experiences a stomach bug or illness that makes eating difficult. Others say picky eating comes slowly in a series of pressured eating times, food-related punishments, or an unpleasant food experience.


However it begins, picky eating is normal and can certainly be dealt with. But if picky eating is accommodated without question early on, it will likely become a lifelong habit (source).

Picky Eater or Too Much Food?

One-year-olds have small stomachs and don't need large portions of food. One reason your toddler may appear to be "picky" is that he is not very hungry, so he only eats the sweet stuff or carbs that snacky adults struggle to turn down, too.


Your one-year-old should eat about 40 calories for every inch of height, but this can vary slightly by activity level and build (source). Here are some general guidelines for how much a one-year-old should eat in a meal:


Food Group

Amount in a Meal (Choose 1)

Protein (meat, fish)

  • 1 ounce of meat

  • 1 egg

Dairy

  • 1/2 cup of milk

  • 1/2 ounce of cheese

  • 1/3 cup of yogurt

Vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon of cooked vegetables

Fruits

  • 1/2 banana

  • 1/4 cooked apple or pear

  • 1/8 cup quartered grapes

  • 1/4 cup small watermelon or cantaloupe pieces

Grains

  • 1/2 slice of bread

  • 1/4 cup dry cereal

  • 1-2 crackers

  • 4 tablespoons of cooked oats, rice, or pasta

Legumes

  • 1/8 cup soaked and cooked beans


One meal may only have two or three of these options offered. The idea is that you will provide a balanced choice of food for each meal, and your child will choose what he wants to eat. This way, he will have plenty of food available but only eat what he needs to keep going.


Just don't pressure or force your one-year-old to eat at a scheduled time; toddlers will eat when hungry, but it may look like grazing most days.

Should I be Worried If My One-Year-Old Refuses to Eat Certain Foods?

Your one-year-old's eating habits are irregular and unpredictable over time. Maybe one day, she eats everything in sight and only nibbles food the next day. Or maybe she wants fruits and veggies for a few days but can't stand them afterward.

Little baby eating food in high chair

Your little one will eat what she needs when she's hungry. With growth spurts, exponential neural connection building, and nonstop learning and processing, your tiny tot is a walking miracle that needs fuel.


Some days, all she will eat is peanut butter crackers. Make sure she has other options on her plate and a little milk with those, too. You shouldn't force a child to eat, but you can consistently make the right stuff available.


If you serve food your one-year-old tries to avoid alongside other food that she does enjoy enough times, odds are she will try it again. It's even better if she sees you and other kids eating the food she typically turns down. It's not something to worry about!

3 Possible Underlying Issues for Extremely Picky Eaters

Some one-year-olds exhibit extreme rejection behaviors toward specific foods, like complete meltdowns, throwing food, screaming, or making themselves dry heave. You may see this in dramatic personalities or in foster or adopted children with past trauma.


Whatever the cause, extremely picky eaters may have deeper issues underlying their pickiness. If you identify any of the following, talk to your pediatrician about things you can do to help your one-year-old.

Sensory Issues

Some children may have  uncontrollable  sensory issues that make certain textures, tastes, smells, or sensations in their mouths unappealing. Kids with trauma or abuse in their past may have sensory sensitivities to something in the room or the way they are seated at the table.


You don't know until you've observed similar behaviors triggered by the same thing. In some cases, it's an easy fix: puree the food, cut it smaller, or cook it differently. However, the root cause is occasionally much deeper and needs a professional's opinion.

Food Allergies and Intolerances

Some picky eaters may have food allergies that limit their food choices. But, you may not be aware that your child is being picky due to a reaction because she cannot communicate what she feels.


Here are some signs to look for:

  • skin reactions: a rash or hives, especially around the mouth

  • digestive problems: vomiting, diarrhea, lots of gas, or abdominal pain

  • respiratory symptoms: wheezing, coughing, or difficulty breathing

  • facial swelling: swelling of the face, lips, or tongue

  • anaphylaxis: the above symptoms grow worse quickly until shock happens


If your child struggles to breathe or her allergy symptoms progress quickly, take her to the ER. But if your one-year-old seems to have a mild allergic reaction to something, talk to your pediatrician.


The next step will likely be testing to determine the specific allergen causing your child's symptoms so you can avoid that food in the future.

Other Developmental Issues

Mealtimes are one of the times we learn the most about our little ones, their personalities, their likes and dislikes, and their struggles. That's why extreme picky eating can be concerning, especially in tandem with observations you've made in other areas of your child's development.


If your one-year-old constantly falls behind normal developmental guidelines and exhibits extreme or odd behavior during mealtimes, reach out to your pediatrician to express your concerns. Diagnoses like autism are not typically given until after three years of age, but keeping notes is helpful.


If you leave for work around mealtime, your one-year-old may act out by being picky or fussing during that meal, even on days when you stay home. This would fall under separation anxiety. Read How to Handle Separation Anxiety in Your One-Year-Old for ideas on how to correct it healthily.

10 Tips for Handling Your One-Year-Old's Picky Eating

Dealing with a picky eater adds extra stress to your day. Moreover, one-year-olds can't talk or reason with you, especially when they're busy asserting their independence. Learning to handle mealtime challenges and nourish your child while respecting taste preferences is tough!

Upset toddler refuses to eat healthy meal because she is a picky eater

Here are a few tips to help you provide your picky eater with a balanced diet:

1. Offer a Variety of Healthy Foods

Introduce your one-year-old to a wide range of foods from different food groups, cultures, and styles. Don't be afraid to explore or really get into it! 


The more you enjoy what you eat, the more likely your little one will want to join you.

How Can I Get My One-Year-Old to Eat a More Balanced Diet?

If your child refuses to eat a certain food, offer a healthy alternative instead of a sugary or less nutritious replacement. 


One thing you can do is ensure there is always one thing your child loves to eat on his plate. Maybe it's a bit dry cereal or some banana, along with whatever your child resists, but don't hold back on serving the new or unwanted food.


Throwing out uneaten food is not ideal, but consistently offering your child well-rounded meals in appropriate serving sizes is crucial for establishing good eating habits for a lifetime.

2. Be Patient

It can take several tries before a child learns to like a new food, so don't give up after the first attempt! Creating a new eating habit can take 21-30 opportunities or more.


One of my children refused Chinese dumplings and fried rice for two years, but he eventually caved and tried them because we enjoyed them so often. Now I can't give him enough!


Your child may never like certain foods, and that is totally okay. What you should avoid is raising your child solely on gummy snacks, apple juice, and peanut butter crackers. It takes consistency and patience, but your child will likely find some healthy foods she loves!

3. Stick to a Routine

Offer meals and snacks often throughout the day to help your child develop a sense of structure and predictability (think three meals and two snacks). This goes right along with the routines parents often set for bedtimes, nap times, and goodbyes.


Young children have very little control, but they can control eating and using the bathroom, and most kids figure that control out in their second year. So, by creating a routine, you can help get your independent tot into the idea of eating before you actually offer the food.

4. Be a Role Model

Your wee one is more likely to nibble on new foods if she sees you eating them, too! Offering your toddler peas when you hate peas and avoiding them yourself is like telling someone they are wrong for doing something while you are doing it.


Toddlers are surprisingly sharp after watching you for more than a year, so you won't be able to fool them for long with your habits.

5. Get Creative

Try presenting foods in different ways, like cutting them into fun shapes, arranging them on a colorful plate, stacking them, or making faces.


You may overcome that initial resistance if you can make the food interactive (dips, building something, drawing with sauce).

6. Avoid Distractions

Keep mealtime focused on eating and connecting with one another. Allowing your toddler to watch TV or play with toys while eating can result in messes, frustration, or not eating at all.


Besides, instilling a healthy habit of connecting with loved ones around food is brilliant. The alternative is mindlessly snacking on calories while staring at a screen or getting busy and forgetting to eat altogether.

7. Make Mealtime Fun

If your child is super picky, you can try playing a game with the food, telling a story, or singing a song. Creating a positive atmosphere will help you stay calm and keep your little one engaged in something other than complaining.

Mother feeding happy toddler girl with a spoon

Also, who doesn't enjoy dinner and a show?

8. Cook Together

Obviously, your toddler should not be near hot ovens, boiling water, or sharp knives, but finding something your little one can do to contribute to the meal is a fantastic way to get her excited about food.


This could be kneading bread dough, putting raw veggies or fruit on each plate, or watching from a baby carrier while you cook.

9. Don't Force Your Child to Eat

The worst thing you could do is force your one-year-old to eat. Picky eaters can be stubborn and rude, but parents should never let it become a power struggle. Ever sit at the table for hours as a kid waiting out your parents over eating broccoli? 


That's a power struggle, and as your child gets older and wiser, it becomes a way to manipulate, make deals, or get at you.

How Can I Encourage My One-Year-Old to Try New Foods Without Force?

Offer all the right stuff each meal and either save it for the next meal or compost it. Furthermore, it should be made clear by example that trying new foods is fun. 


Force won't do anything productive, so avoid it.

10. Don't Give Up 

Picky eating is normal for most one-year-olds at some point, and up to 35% of them will become picky eaters for life. The others will eventually grow out of it if it's not blown up into a fight or scary thing.


Keep offering a variety of foods, make trying new food a fun experience, and be patient with your child's progress. Avoid talking to others about all the foods your child won't eat because, if your toddler grows up hearing that, he will likely decide that's just the way it is and create a self-fulfilling prophecy!


If you have more burning questions about raising your one-year-old, check out 25 Questions First-time Parents Ask About Their One-Year-Old!

In a Nutshell

Picky eating is a challenging and, quite frankly, annoying ordeal to work through, especially with one-year-olds! But, with patience, creativity, and consistency, you can help your toddler through picky eating and share a world of culinary genius that isn't oversalted, sugary, or greasy.


Before long, you will have a little foodie to feed!

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