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 favorite pasta dish in his favorite blue bowl, which he had asked for 2 seconds previously.
What an evil mommy!
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. Mealtimes 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 behavior 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” behavior and only ever wanting to eat macaroni cheese is frustrating and can lead parents to give in and only ever feed them their favorite 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 toddlers 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 learned 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 behavior 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.
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In todays time making child eat is a great task. Some time I bribe them with mobile to eat. Which makes task easier.
Erin @ Stay at Home Yogi says
oooh, so much amazing insight in this post! Like how hunger can vary from day to day! Great to know! I really need to follow the advice here, because I’m starting to fall into the trap of just offering the 3 or 4 “safe” foods I know they will eat.
I definitely do the safe foods thing. Every time I give him something new he makes a face and spits it out. LOL
Nikki Crump says
My sons new favorite words are “don’t like it”. It kind of makes me sad because he used to try anything. These are some great tips that I will surely use.
Mine doesn’t speak yet, so he just shakes his head violently to indicate no way jose lol.
Samantha @ Momma Wants Java says
It’s nice to know that there’s a real reason behind the not eating, other than they’re just testing their boundaries. As with all things with toddlers, patience is key. 🙂 Great post!
I sure could use a patience pill.
Tori @ The Mama Nurse says
These are great tips for parents on how to include healthy food items into a picky eaters diet! Thanks so much!
It certainly is not an easy task. I miss the days when he would eat just about everything haha.
Great tips here! Can definitely use help getting my littles to eat more than play dough lol. My 13 yo was super picky but when he hit his tween years forget it – I can’t keep up with the amount of food that boy eats. All the foods!!
I have heard that teenage boys will eat you out of house and home. Fun times to look forward to.
Such great ideas! Now to get one of my picky pre-teens to eat….
So, are pre-teens as bad as toddlers?
Angela K. Hill says
These are great tips. My son is four and half and he is very picky. We have a rule that he at least has to try one bite of new foods before recoiling in disgust. He is so dramatic that he will take a bite and then grab his throat and start coughing.
Sometimes he won’t react and we know that’s when he doesn’t want to admit he likes it. It’s probably at a one to ten ratio, but it feels like a win every time!
Wow such drama over tasting food!