It is an age old problem for parents; how to get your toddler to eat? Getting your toddlers to eat well is a bonus for any parent but for some toddlers it is getting them to eat anything that’s the struggle! Toddlers are known for being fussy eaters. It is a big developmental age where a child starts to assert their independence and they learn pretty quickly that food is one of the things they can start to say “no” to.
I find an important thing to be aware of is to figure out what works for toddlers and try to go with that for a bit. Obviously, it is important that children learn about meal times and to have routine around them, but I think it is totally okay to offer your child snacks if you are worried about what they are eating. Toddlers are on the go most of the time, so eating on the run can be a good way of topping them up. Morning tea and afternoon tea times are great for offering nutritious snacks that can be given while playing.
As I mentioned, it is important to have routine around mealtimes. Routine and structure are great for kids as they understand what is coming next. Having structure for mealtimes, like sitting at the table or in their high chair, having meals happen around the same time everyday can help with eating routines. It can also help children understand your expectations. When they sit in their high chair, they know its meal time and they will be given food they need to eat.
It is also a great idea, if you are asking your child what they want to eat, to not overwhelm them with too much choice. Deciding between two different choices is enough for young children, otherwise they will get confused. So keep it simple. I also wouldn’t let meal times drag on for too long. Young children get bored pretty quickly and if it is dinner time, they will also be tired, so give them a decent amount of time, say 30 to 45 minutes but after that they will just lose interest.
Children, and adults for that matter, can get cranky when they are hungry (you’ve heard of the term ‘hangry’!) so it is a good idea to not leave too much time between meals and snacks. If they are starving when it comes to dinner time you may find that the wheels will fall off and that is no fun for anyone!
We also know that toddlers are renowned for not liking vegetables. I often get asked how to coax a toddler into eating them. Well, it’s not that easy but again, having some routine around it can help. Always have some veggies on the plate at lunch and dinner time. Don’t expect them to eat everything but just seeing it, smelling it and if you are lucky, tasting it, can get them used to the idea of vegetables. If they don’t ever see a carrot, then they won’t ever want to eat one. You can also mix in vegetables with other foods, like fried rice and spaghetti bolognaise so they aren’t so prominent on the plate.
Finally, try to keep emotion out of mealtimes. I understand how frustrating it is when you have just cooked a beautiful dinner and your child looks at it and says “Yuck!” But creating a fuss around meals can cause your child to act out at all mealtimes and not feel relaxed around eating. Be clear about your expectations but try not to be too tough. A lot of the time your child’s body will be telling them what they do and don’t need nutrition-wise, so allowing them to reject certain things and love other things for a bit is okay. Toddlers will love blueberries one day and hate them the next. This is classic toddler behaviour but know in time they will love them again soon!
Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.