Here are some experts' tips to get your finicky toddler beyond chicken nuggets without becoming a short-order cook:
Go for less parental control, more variety of healthy food choices in small servings, and trust your toddler to know when he's full, several nutritionists agree. And if at first your little one cries a big no to new foods, try, try again.
Giving up too soon and labeling your toddler as a certain type of eater is the No. 1 mistake parents make when feeding their kids, says Christina Schmidt, author of "The Toddler Bistro: Child-Approved Recipes and Expert Nutrition Advice for the Toddler Years" (Bull Publishing Co., 2009, $16.95).
According to Schmidt, research shows that it takes eight to 15 times of introducing a new food to a child for him to accept it. That means you need to offer that food an average of 10 times before your child will consider eating it.
Most parents tend to give up after three tries, Schmidt says.
"The good news is there are ways to persuade your toddler to eat her broccoli trees and apple-bit airplanes without making yourself crazy," she says.
Your toddler's personality plays a big role when it comes to how he or she will respond to new foods. For example, independent children may prefer to have their own toddler-sized eating area while your short-attention-span child might be prone to grazing, rarely sitting down for an entire meal, Schmidt says. If "no" is your child's favorite word, offer limited choices.
As in many situations related to kids, avoid giving attention to protests or tantrums.
Other tips from Schmidt:
--Cut foods into fun shapes. Use fun cookie cutter shapes for sandwiches, cheeses and fruits. Make foods as mini versions; silver dollar-sized pancakes, mini muffins and tiny pizzas appeal to little hands.
--Serve 1 tablespoon of each dish per year of age, or about one quarter of an adult serving at meals and snacks. Toddler stomachs are the size of their fists, so a little goes a long way.
--Train your toddler to enjoy drinking water instead of loading up on fruit juices.
By age 9 months, many babies want to start feeding themselves but can't yet handle a spoon. That's when finger foods come into their own, says nutritionist Annabel Karmel. The mother of three children, Karmel is the author of "Top 100 Finger Foods: 100 Recipes for a Healthy, Happy Child" (Simon & Schuster, 2010, $18).
More nutritional data is pointing to the importance of grazing, eating small, healthy snacks throughout the day, to develop a healthy metabolism for children and adults, according to pediatrician William Sears, M.D.
Toddlers like to graze their way through a variety of foods. To offer what Sears called a "customized smorgasbord," use an ice-cube tray, a muffin tin or a compartmentalized dish. Place bite-size portions of colorful and nutritious foods in each section. Call these finger foods playful names that a 2-year-old will appreciate, such as thin slices of apple or pear are moons; quarters of an avocado are boats; and banana slices are wheels. His Web site for more tips is www.askdrsears.com.
Reach Betsy Flagler at firstname.lastname@example.org.