When my kids were toddlers, I did at times dread dinnertime. I would prepare a variety of meals composed of what I felt to be healthy, appealing foods. As toddlers most of those meals ended up everywhere but in their tummies, walls, floor, evenly distributed all over the high-chair.
I recall taking their rejection of my culinary abilities personally, silly I know. But what was wrong?! On the road to trying to understand why my kids were being such picky eaters I developed some stress saving strategies…
Learning to Relax
I realized my job was simple, buy, prepare healthy foods and serve it creatively. The rest was up to them.
Aim for a Nutritionally-Balanced Week, Not a Balanced Day
I remember my kids as toddlers would many times binge on one food (as well as bedtime books and movies, there are few books and movies I can recite word for word) I suppose alot of kids don’t like change, so as long as the binge food was a healthy choice I decided to go with the flow.
Make a Snack Tray
My kids loved to graze they still do, so a kiddie buffet was something I would put together for them (and still do) all the time. I would use funky serving trays from a compartmentalized dish to muffin pans to ice-cube trays, giving the various food items playful names.
Toddlers Love to Dip
Dipping is hands on and fun for toddlers and another way to get good things into their tummies. Cream cheese, tofu dip, guacamole yogurt or salsa.
I let my kids get involved with the prep of their food as much as possible, I have them spreading and topping various snacks. They would use cookie cutters like a knife on items like bread, pancakes, apple slices and even pizza dough. Aprons and even disposable gloves really made them feel a big part of process.
Push the Veggies
Other than having the never ending platter laid out for the little ones, there are other ways to promote and incorporate veggies into the toddler’s diet. Plant a garden with them, pride of ownership is a big thing with young kids. They are more likely to be interested in eating what they have helped grow.
Mince vegetables and add to various dishes, sauces on vegetables are much like the dipping idea. Cut the vegetables into fun and funky shapes. Remember we eat in a three step program, first our eyes, we see the food first. Second we smell our food, it’s under our noses and then thirdly we eat the food. So if it looks like fun the toddler is more likely to try it.
I recall when the kids were young if a friend of theirs came over I would be a little more daring with what I would make. The thought behind that was if the friend would try it my toddler would try as well.
Don’t forget a toddler’s stomach is about the size of their fist, so not matter what Grandma says about not eating enough they most likely have. If my kids were not eating, I would play the bite game. I would give them the choice of two amounts of bites they would had to consume, they would always pick the smaller amount. That was ok because I would always remind myself of the size of their tummies, once we had reach the agreed amount there was always lots of cheers and high five’s.
Make Food Accessible
If you can give your toddler shelf space. Be it a cupboard and or refrigerator; stock it with healthy food and drinks. I work for me, when the kids were hungry they could go and grab a snack.
Count on Inconsistency
I clearly remember, one day the kids would eat like lumberjacks and the next like a mouse. One day they adore baby carrots and me running out a buying as much as possible, then three days later completely refusing to even looking at a carrot. Their inconsistency is their consistency, as a parent you just have to roll with it and don’t take it personal.
10 quick tips for mealtime
- Respect your toddler’s appetite or lack of one
- Stick to the routine
- Be patient with new foods
- Make it fun
- Recruit your child’s help
- Set a good example
- Be creative
- Minimize distractions
- Don’t offer dessert as a reward
- Don’t be a short-order cook