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How can I expand my toddler's diet?

My 15-month-old toddler will only eat applesauce, macaroni and cheese, and Cheerios. How can I expand his diet?
Submitted by American Baby Team

If your child refuses to eat what you're serving, don't force it. Accept his refusal, but don't automatically pull the Cheerios box out of the cabinet. Wait another hour or two until your child is hungry again, and offer the same meal. At that time he'll be more likely to eat it. If he still balks, give him a choice between the dinner foods and a simple, healthy alternative, like a cheese and tomato sandwich. This sends the message that you're still in charge of the food choices but are willing to work with your child to a certain extent. If you continue this routine, your child will eat other foods eventually; it just might take awhile.
Letting your child participate in preparing meals can also lure him in. Ask him to add the salt and pepper to the soup or to pick out which tomato you'll use for the salad. There's also nothing like a little creativity to make foods more attractive. If you help your child arrange the vegetables into a smiley face or another simple picture on the plate, he may be more likely to eat it. --Gina Bevinetto Feld

Copyright 2007. Used with permission from the October 2007 issue of American Baby magazine. Updated 2009

The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.

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I recommend Ellyn Satter's book Child Of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. She places a lot of emphasis on the "division of responsibility" with regard to feeding our children. The basic idea is that we (parents) are in charge of WHAT we offer our child and WHEN. Our child is responsible for the HOW MUCH (if any). I offer my daughter a variety of foods from each food group and let her decide which of the foods she'll eat and how much. I always offer healthy food (so, if she eats only one thing i give her I know that at least that one thing is good for her!)and i never place limits on how much she can eat. For example, she ate only cheese and strawberries at lunch today and boy, oh, boy did she want a lot of that! I also start with small amounts of each food to see what she's interested in and to limit waste. Once I have given her a meal I don't bring out something else if she's not interested in what i have served. She may not eat much dinner, but she'll eat a hearty breakfast etc. She recently went through a growth spurt and ate the house, but now she seems to have slowed down and eats much smaller portions. My basic philosophy is to let her be in charge of her body ... this limits frustration and helps her to feel empowered! The result ( i hope!) is to raise a child who is aware of her body and eats when she's hungry and stops when she's full. I think it's really important to let our children be in charge of their own bodies...because, let's face it, as a child we are not allowed many of the adult freedoms that look so fun. BUT, we can decide what goes in our tummies!!! And, if our parents help us, we can learn to have a good attitude about eating for all our lives!
Submitted by erinmaver
My son is 6 years old & will not eat pizza. Mainly it's the sauce. I have to take the chesse off wipe it with a napkin & then put it back on. He won't eat anything with sauce. I also have to tell him that what he is eating has sugar just so he'll eat it. He has always been extremely picky. Over the years, he has updated his menu. Yet he is still so picky. What to do?
Submitted by micadeegan
My 15-month-old daughter automatically throws any new food off the high chair tray. So I usually start the meal with something she likes. Then, when she isn't super hungry anymore but is still actively eating, I offer her some of what she threw off the tray. If I am talking to her and she's engaged, she will oftentimes put a bite of what she didn't like in her mouth without looking, decide she likes it, and scarf it down.
Submitted by jenafafa
My daughter is 16 months and has much of the same diet as your son. For several months she has refused to eat fruits and veggies. I always offer and try to be patient. Thats really the only advice I have recieved. Try offering one thing he likes with something else, he may not eat it but sooner or later he'll get curious and try. For example Madison will eat her cheerios with a bananna and I always try to hide brocoli or carrots in her mac and cheese. You could try Ritz crackers with applesauce.
Submitted by jolynn10111
When my child doesn't choose to eat what he is given or only wants the "good stuff" and spits out the veggies, we ask him if he's done. Then if he still won't eat the healthier portion of the meal, we will calmly say it looks like he's done and get him down from the chair. At this point he throws a tantrum but we stick to our guns. Don't worry - your child will not choose to starve themselves night after night! Also some spices are good to introduce, try a variety.
Submitted by hebb1