1. Figure out what your toddler WILL eat.
2. Give him/her only those food items to avoid arguments, frustrations and most importantly to avoid making a big deal out of food and meal time.
3. Offer pieces of what you are eating but allow them to refuse while staying calm (no matter how hard)
4. Start making family meals easily accessible to your toddler with foods like quesadillas, pierogis, chicken fingers, sweet potato fries.
5. Serve meals on platters and leave them close by to your toddlers high chair so that, when ready, they might take it upon themselves to grab a piece.
When O was young, he ate every single thing I put in front of him. I made all his baby food and he ate things like escarole, red cabbage, quinoa, lentils, salmon, etc... Then out of the blue at 14 months he was refusing EVERY thing. Well, almost everything. He ate pasta with red sauce (only the swirly shaped pasta), yogurt, hummus, bagels & cream cheese, pineapple, and oatmeal. That was it. Everything else we offered him may as well have been poison.
I was distraught to have lost my amazing eater but I knew this was typical of toddlers. After about a week or two of 'fighting' with him we came up with a plan. I knew he was trying to assert his independence so I figured that if I didn't let food become an issue, he would have nothing to assert. Following that thought and discussion with my husband, we decided to only serve him the pre-approved foods. He ate oatmeal for breakfast, hummus and yogurt for lunch, and pasta or a bagel for dinner. This lasted at least three week if not a month. We'd always offer him what we were eating but he never took it and we were fine with that.
This is what happened when we offered him turkey on Thanksgiving...
So, after that, everything was served on a platter and placed in front of O's highchair. He would take something most nights and he'd always try what he pulled onto his plate but not always eat everything. It was fine with us, it was progress! I started doing this routine at lunch time as well on the days that I stay home with him and it worked then too.
At this point, close to two months after that first bite of quesadilla, I'm comfortable saying that O is a good eater, once again. At dinner I hand him his plate and he walks to his highchair, waiting to see what I put on the table. If it's something new that I want him to try I place it on the table first and leave the dish that I know he'll love on the stove, for our 'second course.' He always grabs what is put down in front of him and usually eats a good amount. He's also learned how to plate himself a portion of something like rice that is being served in a bowl, which he loves doing.
This is just the way that we came up with to guide our *picky* eater but I would suggest giving it a shot if your issues are similar to the ones we encountered. Some of the main points that I feel are most important are eating together as a family, not getting frustrated, providing consistency, and providing your child with opportunities to succeed.
It's so helpful for children to have their parents to look to, to model appropriate behaviors such as eating off a plate and using utensils, and serving yourselves family style. Remaining calm was something that took some practice for me because I was so upset that he wasn't eating the way he always had. Once I stopped being frustrated by it and stopped trying to get him to eat something he didn't want, things turned around. Just like with anything that has to do with teaching your kid something new, consistency is so important. And in this case, thinking and being creative when it comes to your family's menu and making sure you are always serving food on platters and that it's cut up into pieces that they can handle is how to stay on top of it. By doing those things consistently you can help your child be successful in his attempts. For example, if we were having sausage, I'd cut it up into spears or small slices so that they were easy for O to pick up and I made lots of foods into 'french fry' shape so that he could easily grab one.
Most of all, remember that this was a slow process for us, from beginning of the pickiness to now it's been about 3 months. I've certainly learned how to be a patient parent from waiting for O to sleep through the night to waiting out this food phase. Good luck!