Picky eaters make meal time difficult. When your child reaches two or three, you may notice he has an opinion about what he eats – and it may not jive with what you’re making that night.

A preschooler or toddler refusing to eat is normal. In fact, experts feel it’ part of normal development.

Your child is learning his independence and his best way to do that is by refusing to eat what you’re offering.

To help get your toddler or preschooler interested in what’s on his plate, consider these tips.

Respect

Never force your child to eat if she’s not hungry. Don’t bribe her to eat to receive a treat or dessert either. This could make your power struggle at meal times worse, since now your child knows you’ll reward if she eats. Just serve her small portions of a variety of foods and try to not overwhelm her with a large plate she cannot finish.

Use a Routine

You should serve your family meals and snacks around the same time every day. That way your child knows mealtime is coming. Try to avoid juice and milk as beverages too. These can fill your child before a meal and reduce his hunger.

Try New Things, but be Patient

When you offer your child new foods, don’t expect her to take to them right away. She has to get used to them; therefore, you need to be patient. At the same time don’t just feed her the same thing every day. She needs to branch out and try new foods. You can encourage her to try new things by showing her the color, having her smell the food or even having her help you prepare it.

Make Food Fun

If you’re serving something boring – say broccoli – make it fun for your child to eat. Kids love to dip their food, so offer healthy dipping sauces so they can dunk it and eat it. Don’t be afraid to break the rules with food, such as serving breakfast for dinner once in a while. If you can, serve a colorful plate that is fun to look at. The more entertained your child is by her food, the more likely she is to clear the plate.

Do As You Say

If you tell your child she has to eat vegetables, you need to follow that too. Children learn from their parents; therefore if your toddler sees you refusing vegetables or not finishing your fruit, she’s going to do the same.

Hide It

You can hide vegetables into the foods your child likes. Try pureeing broccoli and carrots and adding them to spaghetti sauce. Mix vegetables into soups or make a mac n’ cheese casserole using a variety of vegetables. If your child can’t see them, he may be more willing to eat the food – and he’ll get much needed nutrition in the process.

Avoid Distractions

Picky eaters are easily distracted. They use those distractions as a way to get out of eating. You can counteract this by making mealtime distraction-free. Turn off televisions, sit down at the table and remove all electronic devices so that all there is to focus on is the food.