As a follow up to my first post [Toddler Won’t Eat: Tips for Over Ones (Part 1)], I’ll like to provide 6 more tips that may help encourage and get your toddler eating:
Respect Independence/Share Responsibility
One of the marks of toddlerhood is an increasing sense of independence and desire to do things by one self. A good example is a toddler wanting to feed himself or herself with a spoon or fork without parental help. Such growing independence should be respected and encouraged, and this would mean an increasingly shared responsibility when it comes to meals/snacks. It’s helpful to remember Ellyn Satter’s ‘Division of Responsibility’ model where the parent decides what foods to serve and when to serve them. It is then the child’s responsibility to determine if he/she wants to eat and how much.
Limit the High Calorie Low Nutrient Drinks/Snacks
Like most of us, it’s often never a problem to get children to eat high calorie but low nutrient foods and snacks like soda, juices, chips, cookies, chocolate, doughnuts…you name it. But understandably a child can easily fill up on these foods and then not be hungry for more nutritious foods. So make an effort to limit or avoid giving those high calorie drinks like soda and fruit juices for your child, and limit milk intake as well to no more than a maximum of 18-24 ounces a day (especially if there are already other dairy rich sources in the child’s diet). As one fellow mom shared, she has a ‘one sweet item at home at a time (e.g., sugar cookies)’ rule–this might work for your home as well.
Offer a Variety!
It is important to keep offering those new foods, even if your child is in the midst of a food jag. Offer a variety of age-appropriate foods-even if it means offering the same food 10-15 times! Keep in mind that the same food presented in different forms may be considered new foods to your child (e.g., a boiled egg versus a scrambled egg). My now 20 month old toddler seems to be getting a bit more choosy and taste/texture sensitive (or as my sister says, “she now has a more sophisticated palate!”) so she is more wary of trying and accepting new foods which look different and have an unfamiliar texture. This is case with foods she used to enjoy in late babyhood like lentil shepherd pie but which I didn’t give her to eat for some time. But I have found some success with modeling my enjoyment and presenting the new food many times so that becomes a regular part of her diet. So my advice? Treat the ‘2 years and under’ period as a real window of opportunity to get your child exposed to as wide a variety of foods as possible. After that, it does get a bit more challenging but it can still be done!
Respect Eating Preferences (to a Degree…):
Foods eaten today may not be eaten tomorrow, like small pieces of broccoli versus the stems. Your child may also react differently to the same foods on different days. It is not necessary to always offer a substitute food. At times, you go with the flow because the child will most likely grow out of this and at other times you find a way to work around it. For example, my daughter at one point decided she only wanted to eat the crusts of sandwiches (which have the least filling) instead of the center white part where the filling was spread. So what did I do? I just served ‘crustless sandwich squares’ for a few weeks until she was used to eating those. Then I switched back to giving the regular sandwiches. It worked!
Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
In Part 1 of my post on this subject, I’ve already mentioned about the importance of sticking to a regular meal/snack schedule. This will often mean 3 meals and 2-3 snacks, as toddlers have small tummies, though some children eat 3 larger meals during the day and seem happy to go without snacks in between. If a toddler is not excessively hungry, he or she will be less grouchy and more willing to eat at meals. If the child won’t eat, still have him sit at the table until most of the family members have finished eating within reason.
If your toddler refuses a meal or snack, you can give another one in another hour or two and she can wait till then. If she was hungry but chose not to eat, she will be more likely to eat what is offered next time. Even if your toddler eats very little or not anything at all, be assured that he/she will make up the nutrition later that day or later in the week. Recently my toddler’s dinner was delayed by over an hour, because she had a late lunch and I (unwisely) gave her an afternoon snack as well. So the rest of the family had our dinner while she continued playing. An hour later, she was famished and ate all her dinner within 15 minutes! I’m glad I didn’t try to make her a different meal, but I did learn that the next time she has a late lunch I probably need to skip the afternoon snack!
If you want to give your child dessert, know that you don’t need to offer it with every meal or even everyday. But if you do offer dessert, don’t make it a weapon. This means don’t withhold the dessert if your child refuses to eat. Otherwise your toddler will quickly realize that dessert must be better and something good, and will start to evaluate foods into different categories instead of being on the same standing. In our household yogurt is the sweeter second course for dinner, and often fruit is the dessert that we give at the end of the meal. So think of alternatives that you can give to the traditional dessert foods!
As always, make the meal time atmosphere as inviting and pleasant as possible. Have pleasant conversation, a clean and bright eating space, music if desired and limit distractions like TV viewing (and arguing). You can even inject a bit of fun into meal times for older toddlers/children by having themed nights and themed food. This can be as simple as a dress up, color themed food/dress, taco night or breakfast for dinner night!