It is very common for kids around 1 to start getting picky.  There are lots of theories as to why this happens, but the research on this issue shows that there is really only one thing that will reduce the chances that this way of eating becomes a pattern — that is variety.  Here’s how you can nip this behavior, “in the bud.”

The most important thing is to not offer the puffs, Cheerios or other crunchy snack/cereal things that your child prefers too often.  Once a day is enough.  This can be tough if your child is refusing to eat other foods and you worry that she’ll be hungry.  But if there is no incentive for her to eat other things, she won’t do it.  The more you give in, the more you’ll get stuck.  Here’s a 5-point plan to try instead:

1) Offer the preferred food once a day. Some parents have success offering the crunchy snacks “on demand,” whereas others do better picking a particular snack or meal time to dole out the goods.  After that, if you’re child continues to ask for these crunchy snacks during the course of the day – either verbally, by pointing, or whining, etc. – tell her she can have them again tomorrow.  (If she continues to whine or complain then you have a behavioral issue that you need to correct. You can use whatever technique you normally use or see point 5 below.)

2) It’s vital that you tell your child the reason she can’t have the Cheerios over and over again is because it is important that she eat lots of different types of foods every day.  Many people forget to talk to their children about food and eating and are surprised to find that their young children can understand this type of message, but most can. And even if yours doesn’t understand at first, if you repeat the message every day, eventually your child will get the point.

3) If you have promised your child that she can have the favored food the next day, make sure that the next day you give it to her.  When you do, it is extremely important that you remind her that you are keeping the promise you made to her. This will teach her to trust you. It also will give her confidence that her favorite items are not being taken away from her.

4) Keep in mind that children at this age have food preferences that reflect their feelings more than their taste buds.

The key is to identify why your child won’t eat certain foods.  If it’s a texture issue – teach her how to enjoy new textures.  If it’s a control issue – redirect her need for control into appropriate ways.  If it is because she’s not feeling adventurous – teach her how to try new foods by discussing what it will taste or feel like, how it is similar or dissimilar to something she’s eaten before.  Remember, the goal is to get her to taste, not necessarily to eat, the food you are introducing.

Read the posts What “I don’t like it” really means and  for extreme fruit and vegetable avoiders for more information on these topics.

5) And finally, if your child is having tantrums you need to correct her behavior.  A child who is having tantrums will never be able to learn new eating skills until she is calm.  Tell your child that a tantrum shows you that she doesn’t want to eat and then end that eating opportunity.  A short while later you can try again, but if you give in by giving her the food she wants then you will be teaching her that the tantrum works.

At the next eating opportunity, give your child a different food, BUT make sure it isn’t a favorite (that only increases the incentive to hold out.)  Instead, give her something nutritious that you want her to have. She won’t let herself starve…. there is no evidence that small children do this.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.