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University of Illinois Extension

Toddlers' Choosy Eating - Relax, It's Probably Normal

November 13, 2012

What is the greatest challenge related to your toddler's eating that you have experienced? Was it rejecting new foods? Only wanting to eat certain foods over and over again? Refusing to eat entire food groups such as vegetables? Exhibiting strong preferences about how food is prepared or how it looks?

"Actually, all these behaviors are very common and normal for toddlers," said University of Illinois Extension family life educator Cara Allen.

"It's a well-known but not always welcome fact that toddlers are beginning to assert their independence, and one common way that they do this is be deciding what and when they will eat," she said.

"Why do parents worry so much about what their children eat? They worry that children are not eating the kinds or amounts of foods that will help them to grow up healthy. They think their kids will never learn how to eat certain kinds of foods if they don't begin early. And, perhaps worst of all, they think they are bad parents because they can't get their kids to do something as seemingly simple as eating a balanced diet," she said

According to Allen, here is what is known about young children's eating habits. Children are born able to know when they are hungry, when they are full and it's time to stop eating, and when to make up for not eating much at one meal by eating more at the next.

"Research shows that as long as parents allow children to choose from a nutritious varity of healthy and approppriate foods, kids can be trusted to decide how much of these foods to eat," she said.

Studies have also shown that even if children insist on eating their favorite foods for days in a row, they will eventually tire of the repetition and begin eating something else, she added.

"Also, almost all young children initially reject unfamiliar foods. Not until kids are exposed to and taste-or watch someone else taste and enjoy-a new food as many as 10-15 times will they begin to like the foods themselves. So parents, eat that broccoli!" she advised.

Here are some do's and don'ts regarding toddler eating habits:

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