For toddlers, a lot of things are about control -- they want control and they'll do anything to get it. Food often becomes a battleground for families, with parents wanting them to eat nutritious food, to sit properly at the table, and to learn to eat what is put in front of them. High expectations for meal time can lead to disappointment, turn mealtime into a battleground and create an unhealthy relationship with food. But what can parents do? There is, of course, no silver bullet. However, there are ways that you can make mealtime more pleasant without having to cater to every single food-related whim that your child has.
Parents always feel pressured to have those perfect family dinners (although I don't think they're "all that"). I think the first thing we should do is take a huge weight off of our own shoulders and stop worrying about whether everyone is sitting properly at the table and using the right utensils. That will come, with time. When your kids are toddlers, developing a healthy and positive attitude toward food is more important than proper table manners. Dionna (@codenamemama) wrote a great post with ideas on making mealtime a positive experience that I wish I'd printed out and posted on my fridge when my kids were that age (in fact, maybe I should still do it now).
It is important to remember when dealing with your own kids and when handing out advice to others, that what works for one toddler, will not necessarily work for another. That is especially true when it comes to picky eaters. There will always be some person ready to tell you that if you just put healthy food in front of your kids, they are guaranteed to eat it. My experience with a picky eater tells me that is FAR from the truth.
When I asked my readers about the issues they find challenging with their toddlers, a lot of you mentioned picky eaters. Erin, one of the commenters on the post, left an insightful comment in response to some of the concerns people brought up:
I think eating issues are often caused when parents make food an issue of control rather than sustenance. All small kids want to control their world, and they often focus on food. So if parents are rigid about expecting kids to do X (like clean their plate) they will often do Y. In addition, small children have extremely sensitive senses of taste and texture, so it’s pretty common that flavors that seem okay to us are revolting to children.
I wouldn’t send my kid to bed hungry either. I tend to make them food I know they will like and add on a bit of what we’re having in some form (although they often eat before us because they go to bed early). The 3 y.o. has to take at least one “thank you” bite from everything on the plate, but whatever he eats or doesn’t eat after that is up to him. I don’t care. My job is to provide a balanced and nutritious meal. His job is to decide what he wants to eat. And we have a designated snack before bedtime that’s part of the daily meal routine. (We don’t do dessert, so that’s never an issue.)
I was a kid who wouldn’t eat much and I spent a LOT of time sitting at the dining room table after everyone had left refusing to eat my vegetables, and I ended up with a very unhealthy relationship to food. I think it’s one of those situations where we as parents have to ask ourselves – Is this really a big deal to me? Why? What am I trying to teach/give my child out of this situation? When you think about it, it’s kind of strange to try to force someone to like certain foods if they don’t. It’s not a moral failing if your neighbor doesn’t like cilantro!
Hannah (@mominisrael) from A Mother In Israel writes about food at Cooking Manager. A couple of years ago, she wrote a post on preventing food issues, which detailed her mother's approach to feeding their family. She followed it up with a second post, answering a reader's questions, on feeding picky children without wasting food.
My two kids couldn't be more different in terms of what they will eat, what they won't eat, and how much they eat. Yet somehow, magically, they are both fairly healthy. So my biggest bit of advice regarding toddlers and food would be the same as my advice on most toddler issues -- slow down, relax, breathe, and listen to your child. You'll figure it out over time.
Resources for Healthy Meals, Snacks and Nutrition Parenting
- Check out my review of our favourite recipe book for feeding our family, Whining & Dining (by Emma Waverman & Eshun Mott), including my picks for the best recipes in the book.
- Amy (@muddybootsblog) from Muddy Boots Blog writes about adding some greens to smoothies and popsicles to get some goodness into reluctant vegetable eaters. Amy says this is the only way she could get veggies into her toddler for many, many months.
- Sixty Second Parent (@60secondparent) has a quick list of finger foods for toddlers. Try using an ice cube tray to make a mini toddler buffet with a variety of snacks with different tastes, textures and food groups.
- Over at SimpleBites (@simplebites), they've posted one pot wonders for babies and toddlers and two healthy snacks for your little ones.
- What about letting your toddler plan some meals? Farrukh from Housewife's Utopia writes about the meal her toddler came up with.
- Dr. Sears has 17 Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters -- are there any you haven't tried yet?
- Some kids simply won't eat, no matter what you serve or what strategies you try. If you are concerned, check out My Child Won’t Eat – How To Prevent & Solve the Problem (Carlos González). It is a La Leche League book for parents who are concerned that their breastfeeding child isn’t eating a lot of solid foods.
- I wrote about Fuel for Human Bodies: Our Complex Relationship with Food, touching on everything from busy families, to nutrition, to advertising, and more.
What are your favourite resources relating to toddlers and food? Do you have any favourite websites, books, or recipes?
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