What if your toddler only eats a few foods?

My 20-month-old son will not even touch, much less try, new foods. The only things he will eat are toasted cheese sandwiches, cereal and bananas. He does drink milk and juice. My husband and I serve him what we are eating and if he simply does not eat it, then he doesn't eat. I fear that his nutrition must be severely lacking. What can we do since our toddler eats so few foods?

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Despite the limited variety of food your son eats, he at least has chosen a good balance of nutrients! His diet doesn't sound the least bit like it is severely lacking, so don't spend time worrying about that. Instead, concentrate on working on expanding that variety to further ensure he is getting a nutritionally adequate diet.

A diet of cheese sandwiches, cereal, milk, bananas, and orange juice includes fairly adequate protein (from the cheese), a generous supply of carbohydrates from the bread and cereal, a source of vitamin A (from the oj and the milk), a great source of vitamin C (from the oj) and lots of B vitamins and potassium from the banana and grains. The one nutrient that I would be a little concerned about is iron. At 20 months, your son still needs iron from his diet. If the cereal he is eating is iron fortified than he should be okay. If he is not eating an iron fortified cereal, than consider a child supplement of iron. He should be getting 10 mg./day,

To get your son to eat a larger variety of foods you will a generous amount of patience. He is deep in the midst of toddlerhood that is characterized by a dislike/fear of new foods. Familiarity is the key to acceptance. Those foods that you think he would like, and are child and age appropriate you should serve at family meals over and over again. At each meal you should include at least one thing you know he likes and will eat. This will keep you from looking like a short order cook, plus it is respectful of his likes and dislikes. You wouldn't dream of serving a dinner of only things your husband didn't like, and your baby requires the same consideration.

However, beyond those one or two items, do not cave in and prepare a separate meal for him. You will need to be matter of fact about that. If he ends up eating little or nothing, you know he won't go hungry since the next meal or snack is not too far away. When serving up plates, include on his a small bit of the food you want him to try. He will have to take it from there. If he won't even touch it, that's okay. When he gets close to being willing to taste something, reassure him he can take it out of his mouth if he doesn't like it.

It may take months, or years before he expands his food repertoire too much. Just keep track that no one food group is ever entirely eliminated, or that another is eaten from exclusively. Continue to have family meals. That is one of the first and most important rule of good nutrition. Let him know you are enjoying his company. Keep the emphasis off what is or is not being eaten, and keep it on the family. However, you do want to make it a time to share the enjoyment of good and healthy food.

Mealtime is a great time to include some nutrition education, like talking about how the milk will give you strong bones, or the orange juice will give you lots of energy to run faster. Little by little your son will add new foods to his diet.

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