Mom does her best to prepare delicious food for her little boy, but most nights, the dinner situation goes from positive to disastrous in just a matter of minutes, with Brian tossing his peas to the floor and Mom begging him to eat. Out comes the macaroni.

If your child eats nothing but a spoonful of cereal and a forkful of mac and cheese for an entire day, how can you NOT worry?

Well, there's good news. Pediatricians say there's actually little cause for concern because it's typical of toddlers to go through a finicky-eating phase for developmental and physical reasons, according to Sal Severe, Ph.D., author of How to Behave So Your Preschooler Will Too! (Viking; $10). Not surprisingly, 95 percent of picky eaters are between the ages of 2 and 4. Here are some of the reasons children often become picky eaters at this stage:

Toddlers love routine but are doubtful of new experiences with food.

New tastes, textures and smells can overwhelm a tot, so he's less likely to try an unfamiliar food.

Toddlers use food to gain independence.

With mobility comes independence, and suddenly a toddler wants everything his way. He has his own opinions about what he wants to do, when and where, and it causes a common struggle between children and their parents. The dinner table makes fertile ground for your toddler's assertion, says Severe.

Toddlers like to see what Mom and Dad will do.

There's nothing more satisfying to a toddler than watching his parents' reaction when he asserts his will.

Lots of toddlers don't eat a lot.

While your little guy grew fast as a baby, at 1 - 3 years old he's slowed down his growth considerably. Now his appetite will vary according to his particular growth periods – there will be days when he's hungrier than others. And remember "¦ he has a tiny tummy! He doesn't need all that much to be satisfied.

 


Overcoming Mealtime Struggles; You CAN End the Food Fights

There are ways to overcome your toddler's picky appetite and bring an end to the food fights at meal time. Try the following advice the next time your little one opts to wear – rather than eat – his food!

Make Mealtime Fun

Maybe you said you'd never give in to cutting sandwiches in fun shapes "¦ but hey, why not make it more fun for YOU, too? Create fun designs with fruits and veggies and make a game out of gobbling it up. Or, make it a "race" to see who can eat their fruits or veggies faster.

Keep Trying

To avoid fuss, many parents make the mistake of letting their tots eat the same foods every day. It's a rut you need to avoid, says Bridget Swinney, author of Healthy Food for Healthy Kids (Meadowbrook; $12.95). Keep offering new things at each meal. Studies show that if you offer a food to a toddler 10 times, eventually he'll try it.

Add Healthy Twists

A brownie made with applesauce instead of oil is just as sweet and a lot more nutritious than its fatty counterpart. Julie Anderson, a Nashville mother of one, suggests adding puréed veggies to muffins, sauces and eggs. "The cookbook Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld is a must have for moms of picky eaters." A fellow MOPS group member, Grace Wu, mother to a 10-month-old, purées carrots, peas or broccoli and hides them in spaghetti sauce. Anderson also advises parents to melt cheese over veggies. "Who can resist a gooey plate of cheese covered anything? Plus, it adds protein and dairy."

Be Creative

Mix and match flavors. Add berries to your tot's plate, add a variety of colors and textures that are interesting to him visually. Remember that funny names for items can count for a lot. "For my picky eater, I just change the name of the item," says Pamela Starkey, Franklin mom of two. "For instance, my daughter wouldn't eat mashed potatoes, but she would eat "˜potato cream' (kind of like ice cream). It's funny how semantics works with kids and how creative you can be."

Stick to Milk and Water

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that your toddler drink two to three glasses of milk a day. However, be sure to moderate the amount of other liquids, such as juices and soft drinks between meals. When kids overdrink, it spoils the appetite.

Compromise

As you work to lessen your tot's proclivity for sweets, mix and match. If he's used to sweetened cereal, for instance, try mixing a half-and-half bowl of whole grain with the sweet to cut back gradually. Or try Murfreesboro mother of five boys Ginger Hartsock's Three Bite Rule: "My kids gave up complaining years ago because if they haven't tried at least three bites of everything on their plate, they aren't going to be excused. It gets them to try things they would normally push to the side. And after three or four times in front of them, they develop a taste for it and just eat it."

Let Your Child Help

Toddlers can sprinkle grated carrots and raisins on a salad. Let your tot help as much as possible when it comes to food preparation. And don't stop him from nibbling as he works – especially when the options are healthy ones!

Don't Bribe

Don't wave the idea of dessert in his face in exchange for his eating a healthy meal. Once you start talking about sweets that are available, he'll try to go straight to dessert.

Set a Good Example at the Table

Arrange meals so you can sit together as a family for at least one meal a day. Kids are more likely to try different foods if everyone else is eating them.

Let Your Child Leave the Table When He's Done

Sitting through a long meal is sometimes hard for tots. When he's finished with his food, let him leave the table to play quietly in the dining area while you finish eating. Don't worry every time your little one leaves the table with his plate half full. Offer your child three healthy meals and two small snacks a day. And if he doesn't eat much, don't sweat it. Children are the best judges of how much food they can fit in their small tummies.