If your two year old is a picky eater, you're not alone. Here's why picky eating often happens around 2 years old, and what you can do to encourage your toddler to be a more adventurous eater.
Your little one was eating well in their first two years, but all of a sudden, they've recently become reluctant to eat the food you put in front of them. What's going on? If your two year old is a picky eater, you're not alone. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics even affirms that if your 2 year old is a picky eater, that's a normal developmental trait for this age.
Here's why picky eating often happens around 2 years old, and what you can do to encourage your toddler to be a more adventurous eater. But first, let's go over the most common ways picky eating shows up in kids around 2 years old.
Picky eating around 2 years old: What does it look like?
There are several ways picky eating may show up in kids around 2 years old:
- Preferring bland foods, and rejecting bitter and more strongly flavored foods
- Preferring small, quick snacks over bigger meals (sometimes called grazing)
- Eating only a little bit at some meals, or refusing a meal outright
- Preferring a small set of foods and not wanting new foods
Now, let's look at why these different kinds of picky eating may occur.
Picky eating around 2 years old: Evolution often plays a role
If your little one starts wanting only blander foods, and refuses to eat anything with stronger flavors once they're around 2 years old, you might be able to chalk this one up to evolution.
When our early ancestors became toddlers and started to be mobile enough to wander away from their parents' sight, their taste preferences shifted so they preferred bland flavors and disliked strong and bitter ones. This evolutionary trait helped protect them from bitter leaves and berries, which were harmful to eat. So, carrying the trait was key to survival.
This trait still carries over to today. You might notice that your toddler starts becoming pickier, and wants only bland foods, around the same time they're able to walk and run with ease. So if they're choosing the butter noodles and plain chicken over veggies, they might just have the traits our ancestors needed to survive.
Picky eating around 2 years old: Your toddler's mobility makes a difference
Your toddler's increased mobility can also lead to picky eating in another way. As your toddler becomes a confident walker and runner, they may prefer to move and explore instead of sitting down for a meal. So, they might develop a preference for grazing at small, quick snack times, and refuse large, slow meals.
Picky eating around 2 years old: Your toddler may not need as much food
Another thing to keep in mind is that, around 2 years old, your toddler's growth rate starts to slow down. Their body doesn't need as much food now, because they're growing a lot less compared to their first 18 months of life.
This means your 2-year-old's appetite could vary greatly from meal to meal and from day to day, and that they might not be hungry at a given mealtime. They might only eat a little bit at a meal, or refuse a meal completely, since their body isn't ready for it at the time.
Picky eating around 2 years old: Toddlers want control
Between 18 months and 2 years old, toddlers start figuring out what they like and dislike. They're forming strong preferences, and they're starting to develop a need for control and independence.
This need for control often shows up at mealtimes. Your little one can't usually have control over other areas of their daily routine, but they know they can choose what to eat and what to reject. Often, this means preferring familiar foods and rejecting newer foods.
How to encourage more adventurous eating?
If your little one is a picky eater, don't worry. There are several ways you can help encouraging more adventurous eating:
- Keep offering a wide variety of healthy foods.
- Don't give up if your little one doesn't want a new food. It often takes 10-15 exposures before a child learns to love a new food.
- Model enjoying healthy foods at mealtimes – if your little one sees you enjoying a plate of food, they're more likely to try that same food on their own plate.
- At the grocery store, let your little one help pick new healthy foods to try.
- Get your child involved in simple food prep tasks like pouring pre-measured ingredients.
- Give your child a choice in one part of the family meal ("Would you like banana or mango?") and then serve that familiar food with newer foods.
- Let your child smell, touch, and lick a food before eating, to get used to it.
- Try offering little bits of a newer or non-preferred food at a time. The food may be less overwhelming when presented in small amounts.
- Try presenting a new food in different ways. Your little one may end up preferring one preparation over another.
- Always remember: it's up to your child whether they take a bite, and your child should always have control over how much they eat.
- Never force your child to eat anything – just keep presenting the new foods.
- Don’t get discouraged if your little one rejects a meal they enjoyed before. Keep serving it – they will likely eat it and enjoy it on another day. They just might not be hungry for it now.
All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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