If I had a penny for every meal that ended up on the floor instead of my daughters tummy, well lets just say I wouldn’t be living in an apartment building staring at a ten-year-old computer monitor.
When it comes to toddler eating habits, it is safe to say that they are never on par with parental expectations. One day they seem to go all day on no more than milk and juice and then the next you can’t help but wonder where they are putting it all. Three common parental concerns are that their toddler has suddenly become a picky eater, that they throw more food than they eat or do not sit still long enough to eat at all, and that all they want is liquids. It is also common for children this age to eat something one day and then totally reject the same type of food the next day for no apparent reason. All of these issues can become a cause for much frustration for parents. We know that our children need to eat a well-balanced, variety of nutritional foods in order to grow and develop properly, however, who wants each and every meal to become a battle?
Normal Toddler Eating
There are a few things that parents need to keep in mind when it comes to feeding their toddler.
Many parents, including me, will give their child a banana and then after their child takes three bites, try to convince them to eat the rest. However, it is important to keep in mind that a normal serving size for a toddler is only about 1/4 to 1/3 of an adult serving. So in reality, it only takes about 1/4 of a banana to fill their tiny tummies. Do not expect your toddler to eat what you would consider a normal serving for yourself or even for your six-year-old. Keep their meal size proportional to what is the normal toddler serving.
As most parents have already realized, toddlers are at an age where they are fiercely independent. They are determined to do everything by themselves and to challenge mom and dad in any way that they can. Unfortunately for parent, what and how much they eat is one thing that they can exercise some control over. So while it may be tempting to spoon feed their entire meal to them for your own piece of mind, the better option is to feed them a few bites and then show them the proper way to hold the utensil and allow them to have a go at it. Better yet, forgo the spoon altogether and let them have fun with finger foods. Not only are they more likely to eat without a fight if they get to do it themselves, it is also critical is helping them develop their fine motor skills. Try offering them a variety of different finger foods such as crackers, cheese cubes, apples slices and banana wheels, and boiled egg slices as opposed to serving one large meal. There is nothing wrong with them eating what the family eats for dinner just make sure that it is cut up into smaller pieces so it is easier for them to handle. It is also a good idea to add a few finger foods on the side of the main meal in case they aren’t too interested in eating what is on the menu. Although I have found that all it usually take is for my daughter to see mom, dad and big brother enjoying a certain food and then she is more than happy to join in.
Tips to make mealtime more enjoyable
Thankfully, there are many simple things that parents can do to encourage healthy eating habits and make mealtimes happier and more relaxed for everyone.
- Offer a wide variety of nutritional foods. Even though toddlers may refuse a type of food one day, it is important to keep offering it along with a wide variety of other nutritional options. It may take toddlers five tries before they will even consider eating something, so be persistent!
- Have fun with food! Making meals more appealing can be as simple as making a smile face on their plate with grape eyes, a banana nose and melon slice for a mouth. By keep things bite sized, colorful and fun children are much more likely to try a few different things on their plate. I know that smily faced pancakes always tasted much better than plain ones. Makes sense, right?
- Eat together at the table. While many families are often so busy during the day that everyone may very well be somewhere different (work, daycare, school, etc), it is very important to make an effort to sit down as a family for at least one meal a day, AT THE TABLE. Turn off the TV, ignore the phone and put away the toys. As a child I can remember my father’s rule: If we didn’t want to eat, fine, but we had to sit at the table during mealtime. I claimed to hate it at the time, but looking back it was often the highlight of my day.
- Schedule regular mealtimes. Having set times for each meal helps prevent children from grazing on everything they can get their hands on to curb hunger. A small snack is fine, and often necessary, for toddlers to keep them satisfied and energized. Just be sure to keep it relatively healthy, keep it small as too not fill them up too much and give it to them at least an hour before their next meal.
- Be a good role model. We’ve all heard the saying: “Monkey see, Monkey do.” This has never been more true than in reference to toddlers. If they see mom and dad enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods then they will be much more likely to do the same. However, if they see their parents eating junk all day every day, it is safe to say that they will probably not have the healthiest eating habits. You set the biggest example for your child because you are their whole world. It is your responsibility to provide them with healthy, well-balanced regular meals and snacks each and every day. It is their choice how much and if they will eat it.
Which brings us to the last, and probably most important, piece of advice:
- RELAX! Stop keeping track of every morsel of food that passes their lips and just relax a bit. Getting your child to eat healthy should not be a full-time job. While it is important to ensure that they are getting the vitamins and nutrients that they need and are not malnourished, you don’t have to stress about a few unbalanced meals-or even days. Children will NOT starve themselves, when they are hungry, then they will eat. If they are happy, active and growing well then it is safe to say that you are doing a good job. You do not have to cook up complicated and elaborate meals each and every day. As long as you keep on offering nutritious choices, children WILL eat them. Stop begging, threatening, bribing and encouraging and simply step back and let them be. Before you know it they will have eaten their full meal and be asking for seconds.
Eating Well for Life
When it comes right down to it, there is only so much that you can do when it comes to getting your toddlers to eat. You can provide them with a variety of good, healthy food, you can make mealtimes a calm and enjoyable experience and you can set a good example for them, but that is ALL you can do. At the end of the day the rest is them. Keep on doing what you’re doing, give the above tips and try not to make a huge deal of it. If you are doing these things already then your toddler is already well on their way to a great relationship with food and a lifetime of healthy eating.
**CALL YOUR DOCTOR if your child is losing weight, doesn’t eat anything for more than a day or you are concerned that they aren’t eating a balanced diet. Follow you gut, you know your child best, if something doesn’t seem right or you are concerned do not hesitate to discuss it with your child’s doctor or pediatrician. NEVER give a child vitamins, supplements or meal replacement products without the advice of your doctor. SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL ATTENTION if you child is experiencing persistent vomiting, severe stomach pain and/or cramping, refuses to take any liquids for over 8 hours or shows signs of dehydration.**