Dilemma: My 2-year-old prefers just a few foods. How can I encourage my child to try new ones and not be such a picky eater?

Solution: It's tough to figure out why your tyke passes up mashed sweet potatoes and scorns cubes of moist, grilled chicken, foods that you consider perfectly kid-friendly.

The reason why toddlers are picky eaters? A toddler's natural tendency toward food neophobia, the wholesale rejection of unfamiliar foods, sometimes without even so much as a taste. Vegetables seem to be particularly prone to the effects of food neophobia.

Toddlers are often so consumed by novel experiences that they cannot tolerate any surprises on their plates, especially when they're tired.  

Experts recommend riding out new-food resistance (it is a phase) armed with good cheer and some surefire survival strategies.

  • Serve one tablespoon of a new food earlier in the day, when kids tend to be the most energetic and the least aggravated.
  • Offer new foods without pressure. "Avoid pleading and cajoling kids to eat," Neville says.
  • Get toddlers involved. When possible, have children help you prepare the foods you'd like them to try. For example, older toddlers are capable of tearing lettuce for salad, Delmonico says.
  • Be a positive role model. Children, even young toddlers, are highly suggestible. If you'd like your child to eat broccoli, then you should, too.
  • Avoid making only your child's favorites. Serving the likes of mac and cheese, hot dogs, plain pasta, and chicken nuggets to her when she's young ensures she'll expect only those foods when she's older.
  • Keep trying. Although some toddlers may readily gobble up any food you put in front of them, many will not. Research suggests it may take 10 or more exposures to new foods before children accept them.