Developing Food Association in Toddlers: Overcome Picky Eating Behaviors


Did you ever imagine how beautifully and systematically the fundamentals of our existence are designed by nature? Dependency on it, both emotionally and physically, is deeply rooted in our DNA. In this blog, we will discuss one such wonder and how we can make it better. We are talking about ways to develop food associations in toddlers. It is proven that developing a healthy eating habit in toddlers plays a very important role in shaping their future in terms of their well-being, development, and growth.

As a mother, I can connect with you that it could be challenging to develop any habit-forming things at times. This especially applies to children at an early age, but it is one of the important things to do. During this phase of life, children form habits that can define their food preferences and associations, which will stay with them throughout their lives.

So, dear parents, tighten your seat belts as we take you on an exploration that will uncover relationships between food and young children. We will also share some strategies that may help you connect better and understand what can be easy for us can be not so easy for them. I am sure that this exploration will be able to set the stage for a lifetime of defining wholesome eating habits.

Role of Healthy Eating

role of healthy eating

The food we eat can be one of the important aspects that will define the kind of life we are going to live. It is not a hidden fact that healthy eating is a part of a lifestyle that we want to imbibe. That is why it is very important to develop food association in toddlers, as a healthy diet can be crucial for the growth and development of a child. We will find out the reasons behind it:

1. Growth and Development

  • During the early stages, a child might experience rapid development in almost all aspects of life, for example, the immune system, cognitive development, and many more.
  • A healthy diet will ensure the intake of all the critical nutrients like protein, vitamins, healthy fats, and minerals. 
  • These are called critical nutrients as they play a crucial role in early growth years.

2. Healthy Weight

  • A healthy body weight of a toddler can be one of the most prominent issues that have come across by many parents.
  • Most of the time, it is linked to eating habits, as children are mostly picky eaters. They try to dodge eating healthy foods repeatedly.

3. Build Immunity

  • Nutrient-rich food helps toddlers build a strong immune system, which makes them less susceptible to infections.
  • To build a healthy immune system, a diet that involves fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins that can provide antioxidants is a compulsion.

4. Taste Preferences

  • During the early stage of life, children tend to develop taste preferences. If they are exposed to a variety of nutrient-dense food, it might stick with them throughout life.
  • Exposing them to different cuisines, flavors, and textures can help prevent picky eating.

5. Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies 

  • Nutrient deficiencies in the early stages of life unknowingly help health deformities of the future. This can include development delays, health problems, and poor growth.
  • That is the reason essential nutrients like vitamins, protein, and minerals are needed in adequate quantities for optimal health.

Also Read: 8 Most Joyful Reasons To Become A Mother, Taking Care During & Post Pregnancy.

Developing Food Association in Toddlers

Developing Food Association in Toddlers

So far, we have established the importance of nutrient-rich food, especially for toddlers. Developing food association in toddlers is very important as it can establish a sense of discipline and a certain level of consciousness towards the things they eat.

Food is a necessary element that can help us, especially children, sustain a healthy life in the future. As the saying goes, “The habits that we form early will likely remain with us during this lifetime.” Here are some tips that can foster healthy food associations among children.

1. Variety of Foods

  • Introducing a variety of foods to a child is a better way to understand their eating habits. Parents can learn and improvise from the feedback that they get.
  • A wide range of nutritious food in different cuisines, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fat, can be a great way to judge a child’s eating habits.

2. Make Mealtime Enjoyable

  • There are ways to make things enjoyable and funny. Please make sure to maintain decorum by pleasantly sitting as a family at the dining table. In some cases, striking a positive conversation can be recommended.
  • Strictly avoid distractions like music, television, or any electronic item during mealtime.
  • Teach them to eat them on their own and let them be self-dependent. We all learn things at a different pace, and as parents, we need to respect our children’s space.

Writer’s Opinion: Avoid engaging in loud conversations while eating. Treat mealtimes as a meditative stage and develop this habit slowly and patiently.

3. Set Examples

  • It is a fact that children mimic their elders, and setting examples can be the best way to develop good habits.
  • It is hard to force a child to try something that an adult cannot. It would help if you showed some enthusiasm for trying different foods and enjoying them.

4. Involve Children in Food Preparation

  • When involved in something, it becomes enjoyable rather than a task. We are talking about children here. Sometimes, involvement in food preparation can act miraculously and can encourage them to try new things.
  • Assign them simple tasks, such as washing fruits or vegetables, stirring ingredients, and assembling simple dishes. 

5. Be Patient

  • “Patience is the key”. This statement applies to almost every aspect of life. Toddlers often hesitate to try new cuisines or go through the phase of picky eating. They often throw tantrums and avoid eating.
  • You need to be patient and persistent in your approach to getting them to eat something new. You may get initial refusals, and it can take time before they try it out.

6. Food Consciousness

  • Relating to food can be important. It may sound weird, but it is true. It can bring a child a certain level of calmness. We can start by making them touch and talking to them about the colors, flavors, smells, and textures of a food item.
  • You can also teach them about the origin of food. For this, you can visit a small garden, grocery store, or farmer’s market.
  • While talking about the foods, avoid labeling them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and instead of that, describe their nutritional values and tastes.

Why Toddlers Are Picky Eaters

There can be different reasons why toddlers are picky eaters. Some of them are:

Why Toddlers Are Picky Eaters

1. Development Stage

  • There is so much to explore when we are children. Self-discovery and setting up preferences are easier at that age.
  • At this stage of life, a toddler can manifest picky eating behavior as they assert control over what they like and do not.

2. Sensitivity to Taste

  • Toddlers are more sensitive to taste, odor, and texture than elders, which can be one reason they avoid trying new foods.
  • This helps to build picky eating habits as they are hesitant to try new things.

3. Preference for Familiar Food and Evolutionary Instinct

  • Toddlers can prefer similar and familiar food and resist trying different flavors and textures of food.
  • Several studies suggest that evolution can be the reason for defining picky eating behaviors, which is to avoid endangering toddlers from toxins and unfamiliar foods. 

4. Food Neophobia 

  • Toddlers can experience fear or be reluctant to try new food, which we term food neophobia.
  • This stage can be common during growth years, typically from the age of 2 to 6, which can contribute to picky eating behaviors.

Ways to Control Picky Eating Behavior of Toddlers

  • Stay calm and be persistent with your approach.
  • Be a role model and set some examples.
  • Offer a variety of food.
  • Involve your children in food preparation.
  • Set a routine.
  • No distraction of any form during the mealtime.
  • Stay positive and always encourage them.
  • Let them be self-dependent, and try them to eat on their own.

In conclusion, we want to emphasize developing food associations in toddlers as they can be necessary for their overall growth and well-being. Certainly, it is going to test your patience as parents because, believe me, developing a healthy habit in children is a task. But you will be more than happy to do so. We have laid out various scientific facts that may determine the picky eating behavior of a child. Regardless of that, we must try our best to demonstrate what to eat and what not to. Please do not force it. Give your child the necessary space. Be patient and persistent.

Happy parenting!

Mansi Balodi
Mansi Balodi
My life is always on a run but I try to find time for myself to let my wisdom and knowledge help and guide you. In my blogs, I will try to demystify the complexities of topics and will connect with you with ease of understanding. So let's explore the treasure of the world with words.

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