Parents of toddlers know that meal time can be a huge stress. Getting your child to eat more than just their chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese is a dreaded affair.
As a parent you may feel as though you are doing something wrong, or maybe even feel like you have failed in some way. Rest assured you are not alone.
Toddlers are naturally picky eaters. That’s right, it isn’t only yours (even though it may feel like it is). Kids between the ages of one to three pick and poke at their food for developmental reasons. In the first year of life your child grows rapidly, often tripling their birth weight. After that first year your toddler will gain weight at a slower pace, so they will need to eat less food.
As parents we also need to be in touch with our own expectations about how much a toddler “should” eat. Expecting toddlers to eat large amounts of food at every meal is unrealistic as a toddlers stomach is only about the size of their closed fist. So what we perceive as picky eating, may just be a full tummy.
To help you deal with your toddlers’ erratic food behaviors we have scoured the web looking for some helpful tips and tricks. This is what we found.
- Offer a snack tray. Any parent of a toddler knows that they are always on the go. They never sit still, for anything, and that includes food. Toddlers are busy little explorers and this lifestyle will affect their eating patterns. It is easier to feed your toddler with snacks throughout the day than having them sit through a lengthy meal.
Put bite-sized portions of healthy foods into each section of a muffin tin or ice-cube tray and place it on to an easy to reach table. As your toddler makes their rounds through the house, they can stop and snack a bit, and, when they are done, continue to play and explore.
Good foods to include in your toddlers’ tray are:
- Apple pieces
- Shredded deli meats
- Cubed or shredded cheese
- Sliced grapes
- Macaroni salad
- Hard-boiled egg
- Avocado chunks
- Goldfish crackers
- Peas or beans
Inconsistent food patterns are as expected as a toddlers mood swings. One day your toddler may eat next to nothing, and the next eat exceptionally well. Focusing your attention on a nutritionally balanced week, as opposed to looking at it day by day, may make the situation easier to handle. Buying the right foods and preparing them nutritiously (baked and steamed rather than fried and baked) and creatively like this will definitely help make sure your toddler is getting the proper nutrition.
- Drink it. Some toddlers would rather drink than eat, and that is okay! Make your toddler a healthy smoothie. This way they are still getting nutrients they need and you are avoiding a melt-down. Searching for toddler smoothies on Pinterest or the web will give you many recipe ideas. Here is just one of the many out there:
¼ c blueberries
¼ c baby oatmeal (iron fortified)
¼ c whole milk yogurt
1 tsp flax seed meal
¼ c water
2-3 ice cubes
Puree all ingredients in a high-speed blender until smooth. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 48 hours.
- Make it fun. The Mayo Clinic offers these suggestions:
- Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce.
- Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters.
- Offer breakfast foods for dinner.
- Serve a variety of brightly colored foods.
Having your toddler make fruit and veggie selections at the store and having them help you with preparation is another way to make eating healthy foods fun for your toddler. They love to help their parents, take advantage of it!
Parents know toddlers love to smear! Show them how to use a table knife to spread fruit concentrate, cheese, or peanut butter onto crackers, rice cakes and toast. (You will, of course, closely supervise to avoid any possible injury.)
- Lead by example. Toddlers are notorious for mimicking their parents’ behaviors, and that is no different when it comes to food. The more health foods you eat, the more your toddler is likely to try and add to their developing palate. So make sure that the food choices you make for yourself are in line with the foods you want your toddler to eat and enjoy.
It is also important to try to not show disinterest or disgust yourself when trying new foods. Parents who show that they don’t want to try new foods (through words, body language, and even facial expressions) will find that their children will also refuse to eat new things. Your toddler will more than likely be less willing to try something new if you haven’t tasted it first or show disinterest in the food being introduced.
- Be sneaky. Camouflage fruits and veggies in other foods. Try adding them to rice or macaroni and cheese. Veggies can be hidden into dessert foods as well as a healthier snack/dessert option for your toddler. Great hidden vegetable and fruit recipes can be found on the web and Pinterest, like this one here:
1 – 15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large egg
2 large egg whites
½ of a large extra ripe avocado
1 teaspoon coconut or olive oil
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (important to use a VERY good quality powder!)
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup chocolate chips of choice, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8 inch baking pan.
Place all ingredients besides chocolate chips into blender or food processor. Process or puree until ingredients form a smooth batter. If the batter is WAY too thick and won’t process then add in a teaspoon or two of water. This batter needs to be very thick in order to produce fudgy brownies. Add in 1/3 cup chocolate chips and fold into batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of remaining chocolate chips. You can also fold in nuts or swirl in peanut butter. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out somewhat clean and top of the brownies begin to crack.
Cool pan completely on wire rack then cut into 12 delicious squares.
- Consistency is key. The Mayo Clinic suggests sticking to a routine. Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. You can provide milk or 100 percent juice with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals. When you do sit down for a meal make sure the television and other distractions are off. This will help your child focus on eating.
These are just a few things you can do to help encourage your picky toddler to eat better foods. We encourage you to search for more creative ideas and yummy recipes. Just remember that their eating habits won’t change overnight. Small steps that you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating. If you are still concerned it is best to seek for advice from your toddler’s doctor.