Just thinking about mealtime with my toddler gives me heartburn. I am excited to share this guest post from the brilliant Dr Orlena Kerek, sharing advice on feeding these adorable little monsters of our own creation.
How to Help your Toddler who Won’t Eat
I watch in despair as my toddler shoves away his plate, flings his plastic fork across the room and then lies on the floor, wailing. He is protesting. What did this mean mommy do now? Well… She gave him his favourite pasta dish in his favourite blue bowl, which he had asked for 2 seconds previously.
What an evil mummy!
Life with toddlers is rarely dull. Toddlers can be so cute, so gorgeous, so much fun. They can also be hugely frustrating and absolutely exhausting.
One of the most frustrating things about toddlers is feeding them. Meal times with toddlers are not exactly quiet. And it’s so easy to fall into the trap of offering the same food all the time. The food that you know they’ll eat. Or are most likely to eat.
Times of Change
Toddlers are at an exciting time. They are coming out of their “baby stage” and growing into a “big boy or girl”. They are learning so much. They are learning to express themselves. They are learning what they like (then don’t like, then like again). They are learning to do things themselves and they are learning that they don’t like those things called “rules”.
Part of the problem is that their behaviour is changing, but another challenge is that their taste buds and feeding preferences are also changing. And of course, language and the ability to express themselves is a big challenge.
They suddenly decide that they don’t like the food they loved as babies.
They no longer shove everything into their mouths. In fact, they often refuse to try anything unknown at all. (This is believed to be a survival instinct that we have inherited from our cavemen ancestors.)
This combination of “not very polite” behaviour and only ever wanting to eat macaroni cheese is frustrating and can lead parents to give in and only ever feed them their favourite dishes. However, it’s a bit of a vicious circle, if you feed them a restricted diet, they’ll end up getting more scared of new foods.
The keys to feeding a toddler a healthy diet are patience and persistence.
The basic idea is to offer them healthy food at regular intervals throughout the day. You can create a meal routine that fits into your daily routine. An example would be breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner.
At each of these times, you offer them healthy food. If they want to eat, they eat. If they don’t want to eat, that’s fine. A little bit of hunger isn’t a bad thing, and the next healthy eating opportunity is only a few hours away.
You can serve a mixture of food that you know they’ll like and new foods which they probably won’t touch. It takes a while to get used to new foods, just keep presenting them and don’t expect them to eat them.
The Keys to Helping Toddlers Eat Healthy Food
- Regular healthy eating times
- Don’t pressure or bribe them
- Offer variety
- Family meals (perhaps not all the time, but frequently)
- Trust them (their appetites can be erratic, sometimes they won’t touch lunch, other times they’ll eat three bowls.)
- Let them feed themselves (it’s fine to help if they ask for it but letting them feed themselves fosters independence and lets them feel in control.)
Life with toddlers is never straightforward. I have learnt that my son, who is normally a happy and relaxed child, will have a tantrum and then eat his meal in his own time. Normally he’ll start to eat just as we are all finishing. I don’t know exactly why he gets so upset. I suspect that he’s frustrated because he can’t express himself and that I haven’t provided EXACTLY what he wants.
The precise reason doesn’t really matter.
We are patient with him. It can be tough at times, but that’s who he is and the phase he’s going through.
What I do know is that his behaviour is totally normal for a toddler.
I am beginning to see signs that he is growing out of it. He used to sit on my lap for every single meal. Now he normally sits on his chair and sometimes he holds my hand.
Often he doesn’t need to.
I also know that if I am patient and persistent, he will grow up loving healthy food. And I know that all the frustration is worth the effort.
> Ready to learn more? Grab Dr. Orelena Kerek’s book, Feeding Toddlers!
Dr Orlena Kerek
Dr Orlena Kerek is a paediatric doctor. She is the creator and producer of SnottyNoses, a family and parenting site. She is passionate about promoting a healthy lifestyle in children, especially healthy eating habits.
She has published a book Crunch! about how to help your children eat a healthy diet and her second book on feeding toddlers is due out at the end of August 2016. It will be offered free for 3 days at the start of the launch, so sign up if you’d like to be reminded nearer the time.