When it comes to picky eaters, I declare myself an expert because I am a very picky eater! As a child at first I was allowed to be a picky eater, then I was forced to eat everything on my plate until I could get up from the table. There were many nights I sat at the table for hours after my family was done with dinner. This made me determined to never make my kids eat anything.
I started being not so picky after I was married and started preparing meals for my family. I had to stretch the grocery money to last for a month at a time. Over the years I have realized it's more of a control issue than a "I don't like it" issue.
Many children come to daycare and have never been exposed to foods you serve. Some common foods in your home may not be common in their home. It's often hard to get children to try new things when all they eat at home is fast food or sugar cereals and chicken nuggets.
I have dealt with my own eating issues, our daughter is on the picky side, and several daycare children come to my house not wanting to eat, here's what I've found works best:
Don't talk about the food. Just offer the plate and that's it. The more you coax, the worse it gets.
Start with very small portions. For a typical lunch I offer the toddlers a tablespoon of Hamburger Helper, 3 green beans and an inch slice of banana. This is not so overwhelming to the child.
Serve every food you prepare to every child every time. The more the children are exposed to the food, the more likely they will try it.
Peer pressure works wonders! Many times watching another child eat something, gets the other children to eat, too.
Here's an excellent hand-out with tips for toddlers:
Involve the children with planning the menus and preparing the food. Giving children choices is one of the best ways to get the children to eat the food.
If you can, serve family-style and allow the children to fill their own plates.
DO NOT fix an alternate meal. If the children know you will make something else, they will hold out for that every time.
Limit the sizes of snacks. One cup of milk or juice and a third of a banana is a good snack size. If they ask for more, offer water.
Set meal times and snack times and stick to them. If you allow children to have an extra snack or to fill up on juice or milk, they will hold out for that. I serve water between meals and snacks.