Is your little one fussing and not wanting to eat? Are you worried that he or she might turn into a picky eater? Well don’t be. Here are 5 simple ways to help get your toddler eating and make sure what your toddler eats is as nutrition-packed as possible!
Boost the Finger Foods
Offer more protein and nutrient dense finger foods. This way, even if your toddler will only eat mostly those and less spooned foods, at least YOU feel better and know your little one is getting more nutrition than just pasta bits, rice, or Cheerios® for a whole meal. Examples of nutrient dense finger foods would be soft cooked beans, tender cooked meat bits, bits of cooked fish, tofu, boiled egg white pieces, cheese sticks, or pasta pieces coated in a protein rich puree sauce.
Offer Nutritious Snacks
During snack time, it’s easy to fall into the trap of only giving carbohydrate rich foods like goldfish crackers, Chex® cereal or animal crackers. Take a bit of time to think about your child’s snack time and alternatives that you can offer (e.g., using hummus, mashed kidney/black bean spread or commercial baby meat jar as filling between bread to make a few bite-sized sandwich squares). Other ideas include offering fruits or vegetables with spreads like peanut butter, hummus or sunflower spread, offering fruit slices with cheese, or making mini pita veggie sandwiches, or melted cheese and tomato quesadillas. Offer small nutrient dense portions at snack time so that your child will still be able to get hungry by the time meal time rolls around.
Don’t Delay Those Meals and Snacks
If your baby is used to a schedule of 3 meals 2 snacks, then stick to it. Don’t delay! Between late babyhood to early toddlerhood, there were times when I found that if my little one was over hungry, she tended to get more irritable and fussy, and this sometimes made it much harder to get her to settle down and eat properly in the high chair. So listen and look out for baby’s cues (my baby tends to get noticeably more irritable when playing with toys before a meal/snack time), and have food ready before you put baby in the high chair. This way you can immediately offer some food to baby or start spoon feeding him or her. The longer baby has to wait for food in the chair, the more fussy your toddler can become (plus, it’s not fun to be strapped in and unable to move much). Alternatively, you could put a few bits of finger snacks on the table to get baby started. Responding to your baby or toddler’s cues will also help him or her listen to internal hunger and satiety cues.
Go Easy on the Milk!
After a baby turns 12 months of age, it’s possible to end up giving too much dairy products (especially milk) in the course of a day. This can occur if a mother has stopped breastfeeding and wants her toddler to take more cow’s milk, or if a young toddler has been used to drinking a certain volume of formula every day as a baby. What’s more, toddlers generally love milk, cheese, yogurts and other dairy products, so getting them to eat these foods is often not a problem. But a child could end up getting full on these foods and then not be willing to eat other foods which may be important nutritionally. Recommended calcium intakes for toddlers do vary by country (more on this in a later post), but if you are following US calcium intake recommendations then about 4-5 servings of calcium rich foods a day will suffice (depending on the portion size and calcium content of these foods). Recommended servings sizes for toddlers are generally a 4 ounce cup of milk, a slice of cheese and a 4 ounce pot of yogurt. If your child has been used to getting milk with snacks and meals, you may need to offer water with snacks instead, so that your child has a chance to get hungrier for meal times.
Model Your Enjoyment
One of the best things you can do for baby is to have a regular family meal time together, where the toddler can be part of a relaxed meal time atmosphere witnessing other family members enjoying the foods served. Show your toddler how much you love the food you’re eating, especially if it is the same food the toddler is having! I find this often works, and my toddler is more willing to try a food on her tray, once she sees me eating the same food item on my plate.