Top 19 Food Hacks for Picky Eaters

My top 19 hacks to help picky eaters enjoy their foods. These hacks are little ways to adjust your habits and allow a smoother more enjoyable meal time expeirence.

mom and toddler in kitchen looking at food

When Sage turned 6 months, I could not wait to introduce her to solids. As someone who loves food, I was excited to expose her to different flavours and textures outside of just milk. It wasn’t until she turned 1 that Sage started to become more picky. She became vocal about what she did/didn’t want on her plate and if you’ve been following our journey, you already know sometimes her food instead ends up on the floor.

As time has gone on, I have had to get creative and figure out how to hack the toddler eating system so to speak. I’m excited to share my top 19 food hacks for picky eaters and hope you’ll find them helpful!

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1. Separate foods so they don’t touch

I have found that toddlers often prefer when foods don’t touch. That way, they can identify each item and “analyze it”. Or, they can choose what they want to eat. Something else that I have learned is that developmentally near the toddler age, if little ones see a familiar food touching a new food that may signal that the food is unsafe. Because of this, many toddlers might prefer to be able to taste each food independently. The easiest way I have found to do this is by using a plate with built in dividers. The dividers allow little ones to clearly see what their options are, have autonomy, and be selective! 

food on toddler plate with dividers

2. Don’t over crowd the plate

Try not to overcrowd the plate when serving your little ones. Less can be more in this situation. I find that by putting too much food on Sage’s plate she sometimes gets overwhelmed. By leaving some negative space, I find that she is more likely to feel as though she can conquer her meal. As she finishes, I’ll add more food. Sage also knows sign language and will signal if/when she wants more. Communicating with your toddler is incredibly helpful and allows them to have some control over their meals. 

3. Add a “safe food”

When it comes to trying new foods I always incorporate something my daughter is already familiar with. Toddlers begin to have preferences and learn what they like. For example, I popped strawberries on her plate when introducing fish sticks. She absolutely loves strawberries which made the plate more attractive to her. If I didn’t include any familiar foods, she would likely decline the plate altogether.

4. Make sure they are in a good mood

Making sure your little ones are in a good mood is a game changer. No one wants to eat when they’re cranky, including toddlers. Oftentimes if I offer Sage food when she’s in the middle of a screaming session, she will toss her entire plate of food on the ground. If she is frustrated, upset or having “big feelings” I usually try to lighten her mood (a little dance party never hurt anybody). Once Sage has calmed down and settled, I’ll serve her food.

5. Add a dip

When it comes to eating, bland foods are just not enticing. Just as we wouldn’t want to eat foods with little flavour, the same goes for little ones. I like to jazz up Sage’s plate by adding items like hummus, yogurt, sugar free ketchup, mustard or even warmed up berries (delicious on waffles). If you’re looking for inspiration, I have tons of delicious and healthy recipes in my digital e-book, The Baby HealthNut Cookbook. From curries to handhelds to dips there are 30+ recipes for homemade baby food.

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6. Change up the location

Sometimes little ones are just looking for a change of scenery. This could be moving the location of their food or changing where they’re sitting. For example, changing their serving location from plate to high chair tray or removing the tray all together and bringing the highchair up to the table like mom and dad is a fun way to switch things up. .

7. “Ignore them” and don’t put pressure

I have found that staring or putting too much attention on Sage while she’s eating puts her in the spotlight. This often makes her more uneasy regarding trying a new food. She may even throw a fit to get a reaction from me since she knows I’m watching. Relieving the pressure could be as simple as wandering off to wash some dishes or eating food off my own plate while she tries her food on her own terms.

8. Use sign language

This is one of my biggest tips. I have an entire video on how I taught Sage sign language. It has allowed her to communicate with us since before she started speaking. She is able to tell us when she wants more food or when she is done eating. It minimizes big feelings and frustrations at meal time since it allows little ones to feel that their voices are heard.

mom and toddler doing sign language at the table

9. Offer the same food in different ways

The sensory experience is critical when it comes to eating for little ones. If Sage doesn’t like a food that I’ve fed her or gets bored, I’ll try offering it in other formats. For example, chopping cucumber into sticks instead of tiny pieces or slicing apples instead of grating them. I have an entire video on my toddler meal prep for picky eaters (more hacks!). It offers insight as to how I prep Sage’s food in a way that is appealing to her! 

10. Eat the same thing

I love that Sage is at an age where we can enjoy the same foods. When we eat together, I try to make sure our plates resemble one another. The reason being that she will often ask for a bite of what is on my plate and that way I can just pass some off to her. She is also more inclined to eat what she’s served if she sees that mommy or daddy is eating the same thing.

11. Pre-load the spoon

I’ll often preload Sage’s spoon to reinterest or encourage her to continue eating her meal if she’s become distracted. That way she can just pick it up and start eating. I find when the food is ready to go, she’ll just pop it in her mouth. After the first bite it’s all smooth sailing. This also helps if she’s only picking at one thing on her plate and I want her to try something else I’ve served her. 

12. Switch up the utensils 

When Sage is eating, if a utensil ends up on the floor or she isn’t vibing with one I’ve put on her plate, I’ll simply change it up. Two forks or a spoon and a fork, sure! Sometimes she’ll even grab a spatula or a measuring spoon to be silly – but if she’s eating I’m all about it. Stealing my fork is another tactic she often uses, which I’ll allow only if I’m watching her since it has pointy ends. I also have been switching up Sage’s utensils as she’s grown older. I have loved seeing her eating style adjust as I’ve introduced new utensils and dinnerware. All of the kitchen items I’ve used for Sage can be found on my Amazon storefront – they are my must have go to’s. 

13. Interact with their food 

If your toddler is getting distracted or just not showing interest in eating, try interacting with them and what’s on their plate. I will often imitate dinosaur bites or make different interactive sounds to engage her during meal time.  

14. Let them do it themselves and make a mess

As Sage has grown older and begun eating less messy foods, this has become easier. I know sometimes it’s difficult to watch little ones make a mess right before your eyes but it’s all part of the feeding/eating process. Sage has loved digging right into her meals and playing/experimenting with what’s on her plate. This not only allows little ones to feed themselves but helps them discover and interact with their food on a personal level. It allows them to have full control over what is going into their mouth. 

baby eating eggs and avocado

15. Stay positive and avoid negative talk

I know it can be a habit to imitate little ones when trying to decipher what they are trying to communicate. Having said that, I try to minimize negative talk as much as possible. This means not repeating phrases such as “no, you don’t like that?” or “no, yuk?”. If toddlers spit something out or throw food on the floor, instead I will say “yum, you should try these carrots. They are orange, sweet and delicious”.

16. Get them involved more with their food

I have loved getting Sage involved in the kitchen. I’ve been waiting until she became old enough to be my sous chef! If you follow me on Instagram you’ll have seen all of the incredibly fun recipes we’ve whipped up together like blueberry pie and french toast. I am a huge fan of getting her involved. When she’s cooking alongside me she’ll often pop foods in her mouth and is more likely to want to eat the food she’s just helped prepare.

17. Eat together

I grew up eating dinners together as a family all at the dinner table. I think it’s a healthy habit and a great opportunity for family time without screens. The added bonus is that when Sage sees us eating our food, she’ll often dive into hers!

mom and daughter eating food together

18. Fruit bowl hack

This is a fun one I’ve recently discovered. Have a bowl filled with colourful fruit that your toddler(s) can see. They’ll then be inspired to ask for something from the bowl that they want. Sage will often point to something she wants (her most recent favourite is banana) and snack. Right now her fruit of choice from the bowl is usually banana. She loves to peel and eat them whole on her own. She isn’t a huge fruit eater so it has been a strategic way to motivate her to enjoy more fresh foods with less constant visits to the dry snack cupboard.

19. Respect eating choices

This is a big one for me. Respecting your little ones boundaries when it comes to food is so important. I do this by allowing Sage to use her own eating signals/cues to signify when she is hungry and full. I don’t want to force Sage to eat her food or gobble up those last 2 bites if her tummy is saying “no thank you I’m full”. 

I like to understand what she’s communicating. If she is done, I’ll give her a bit of time to be sure and then that’s it. I don’t agree with forcing her to completely clear her plate. I prefer the motto “eat until you’re comfortable”. Having said that, I believe parents know their kids best. If she took one bite and said she was done, she probably wasn’t. But, if she had a big lunch for example, I would take that into consideration and adjust her meal schedule accordingly.

baby enjoying food in high chair

Those are my must try 19 hacks for picky eaters you need to try at your next meal time. I hope that you found this helpful and that it allows you and your littles to enjoy meal time that much more. 

If you enjoyed this post you can check out my Make Ahead Toddler Meal Ideas, 10 Parent Hacks for Toddlers, and 24 Hours with a Toddler.  

What is the meal of the day you struggle with most when it comes to feeding your toddler? Leave me a comment below!

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