Easy ways to help mealtimes with your toddler
‘But you ate it all yesterday’
‘Well let’s ignore this delicious meal I’ve cooked you and get you something else’
‘If you eat two spoons more you can have a pudding’
Argh! Have you found yourself saying any or all of these to your toddler? I think there is a silent, secret battle that goes on in most parents heads. It’s the battle of the false easy life for you and little one vs the sensible option. What I mean by that is it can feel all too simple to get your child to eat if it’s something you know they love all the time. So they do actually eat but it might not be the healthiest of diets (ie. pasta pesto or marmite on toast time and time again).
The sensible option is to offer them a wide and healthy variety of foods each meal time
This may mean they won’t always choose to try everything you give them (and that’s ok!). An important thing to remember is that no healthy child has ever starved themselves. There will be days your little one won’t eat as much as other days. This could be for all sorts of reasons from teething, to illness, to simply being in ‘toddlerhood’ and growing independence!
Of course, we all want happy, healthy children who eat well. The truth is, a lot of toddlers don’t eat as much as we ‘think’ they should be eating. Things get spilled, dropped on the floor, fed to the dog, spat out and if you’ve ever read the toddler humorous miracle diet, you get the idea 🙂
Having cared for many toddlers – from the ones who literally eat everything in sight to the really fussy, picky ones who change their mind as to what they’ll eat as often as they get their nappy changed, I’ve come up with several top tips to bear in mind to help with your sanity a little during this, what can be, a stressful and eventful journey.
Keep calm and carry on
When your toddler sees you relaxed, they are more liked to feel relaxed too and be able to enjoy their meal more. If you start to feel stressed as they are not eating what you’ve lovingly prepared, take some deep breaths and remember it’s not the end of the world. If you offer foods to your toddler that you and your family will eat too, rather than cooking separate meals, you can help minimise the time spent cooking. Plus any leftovers can be eaten by others in the family. Win-win! A revolutionary gadget I can’t live without is my trusty baby cook which is a great idea for cooking quick and simple meals for babies and toddlers. It steams fruits, vegetables, fish and meat to perfection!
Have patience and don’t give up too easily
What your toddler has eaten one day then not the next can be frustrating. I really get that but I believe it’s super important to keep offering it every few days as you’ll be surprised how they might come back to it. By you thinking it won’t get eaten again and not offering it another day, simply limits the foods they eat. If you continue this way, you are quite likely to end up with the child who refuses everything and ‘only eats fish fingers and biscuits’!
A babies stomach is the size of their fist and continues to be a relative size throughout their lives. So that’s something to bear in mind with regards to portion amounts. I’ve known toddlers totally refuse a whole plate of food yet if you offer the food, bit by bit, they will eat it. A lot of food can be off-putting for small children.
Whenever you can, eat with them and even better, the same as them
This can really help encourage them to eat. If they are generally a slow eater or get easily distracted, it can help take the focus away from the child too so they learn to sit nicely and eat their meal. Hovering over a little one eating and coaxing them can either feel overwhelming for them. It also gives them the ‘wrong’ attention for not eating well.
A simple way to ensure little one doesn’t come to expect a pudding is to not offer one all the time!
If after every meal, they know they will get something sweet, they will be less likely to want to eat their meal properly. It can also help break the routine of ‘two more spoons and you can have pudding’ when they are not eating so well. You don’t want to teach them that something sweet will come no matter what as you may just encourage that sweet tooth! This may mean a few tough days to break the habit but be consistent and all will be fine!
Everything comes to pass (promise!)
Remember a young child’s life is a constant set of phases. Some definitely more frustrating/delightful than others. Just keep calm and await the next phase with anticipation and excitement and be prepared!
Be guided by, not controlled, by your toddler at meal times
Allow them the space to explore new foods with different textures, with both finger foods and foods that need a spoon. Remember that toddlers can take time to eat their meal. They are learning their table manners as well as feeding themselves so be patient.
Keep a food diary
If you’re feeling worried about your child’s diet, firstly, think back over the last week. You might just see that they have actually eaten more than you realise or a wider variety of things that you thought. Just try to go with their flow a little and enjoy as many meal times together as you can. Your new found relaxed attitude to what they eat and how much could just well help them eat better!