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Top 10 Tips for Toddler Mealtimes

As promised, here is my second blog post on feeding, continuing on from the Feeding Milestone post I did last week. These are some general parent tips that I share with parents when they express frustrations or concerns with their toddler’s mealtimes.

1. Respect Your Child’s Appetite.
If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force them to eat a meal or a snack. Don’t use food to bribe your child, and don’t force your child to “clean their plate”. This leads to unhealthy mealtime habits and can lead to power struggles over food.

2. Stick To Mealtime Routines
Mealtime routines help to reduce anxiety for children. Children thrive on schedules and routines and it is very helpful for them when they know they have set mealtimes/snack times. Remember as a baby you could predict exactly when your baby would want their next feed? The same goes for your toddler – it’s just that instead of being nursed or getting a bottle of milk, they are getting solid foods. Additionally, you want to discourage grazing throughout the day. This reduces your child’s appetite and a reduced appetite will lead to food refusals!

3. Be Patient With New Foods
It can take 10-12 times for a child to truly know if they dislike or like a food. Also keep in mind that at this age, your toddler’s taste buds are very sensitive. They are predisposed to enjoy sweet tasting food (think of how breast milk or formula taste – both are very sweet) and are extremely sensitive to bitter tastes (i.e. green veggies). The more exposure they have to a food, the less likely it is that they will refuse it over time.

4. Make Mealtimes Fun!
Don’t let mealtimes become a chore. Instead, allow your child to get messy during meals, and explore their foods. Make food art, let your child use dipping sauces, make different sounds when they eat different foods…whatever floats your child’s boat. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that children explore new foods with ALL of the their senses. So if instead of eating the squash, they want to squish it in their hands, rub it on their cheeks and hair, sniff it, inspect it and throw it over the high chair to hear it “plop”….LET THEM! It is how they are learning what squash is! You want mealtimes to be the times of the day he/she looks forward to, not the time that they dread.

5. Grind Up Real Foods
Avoid being a short order cook – use the family pot to introduce foods. Making spaghetti? Grind it up for your little one to enjoy. (Or if you’re like me – use cous cous – instant child friendly pasta that cooks up in a cinch!) The more your child is exposed to the foods you enjoy as a family, the more your child can be a part of your family mealtimes.

6. Ensure Food Is Age and Stage Appropriate
By making sure that your child’s foods are age and food stage appropriate it prevents mealtimes from becoming overwhelming. Additionally, offer small amounts of food at a time. If he/she is still hungry, they can always get more food. This works two fold – it reduces food wastage during their exploration time but it also reduces any anxiety your child may have about the amount of food that they are expected to consume.

7. Try Preparing The Same Food In Different Ways
Provide soft baby carrots at one meal and carrot slices at another meal OR provide meatballs on one day and make a meat loaf the next…switch up the way the food looks to help your child learn that the same food can come in different forms. This also includes “hiding” undesired foods (like vegetables) into desired foods (for example, I fine slice kale and spinach and add it into my spaghetti sauce…not even my husband notices!)

8. Be Creative
If your child is old enough, recruit their help as your “sous chef” to help prepare the meal. Instead of a boring sandwich, make sandwich faces. Create dishes that promote interaction and appeal to your child visually. Remember we all eat with our eyes first!

9. Minimize Distractions
Allow the focus on mealtimes to be on the family meal. This not only involves the actual food but the conversations and interactions at the family table as well. Avoid using the television or other electronics to distract your child while you feed them.

10. Be A Good Example
Eat the way you want your child to eat. You can tell your child to eat their vegetables until the cows come home, but if you don’t eat your vegetables – it’s pretty hard to convince your child to eat them! Even if your eating habits aren’t perfect, do the best you can to show them what well balanced meals look and taste like. You want to teach your child to eat healthily and to have a healthy relationship with food as well.

Until next time,

Cayman Mummy

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