Tips and Habits That Will Get Your Toddler To Eat

Feeding babies and toddlers is certainly the nightmare of every parent and parent-to-be. Visions of pureed foods splattered down the fronts of high chairs, spilled down trouser legs, and thrown into eyes and nostrils has many a parent dreading the possibility of having a picky eater for a child.

We have been very lucky with Emma as she has almost never fought about not wanting to eat. On the off chance she fights with us it's usually because of something else that is bothering her, such as her being tired or thirsty or simply not hungry. However, I do think that we have done some things correctly in training her to eat well.

These are six things I think you should introduce to your feeding routine as soon as possible, habits you should form to encourage good eating, and some tips that can help difficulties at breakfast, lunch, and dinner:

1. Offer your child a variety of foods as soon as they are ready. When a baby is ready for solids - usually when they are around 10 months old or their tongue-thrust reflex has disappeared - make sure you feed different types of food than the prepurchased pureed items available at the grocers. Many times the stores will stock only a few different flavours and if you really wish to prepare your baby for solids, they'll need to be familiar with different textures, too. Mash a variety of fresh fruit or vegetables together so that the texture is different. The taste will be different, too: even you won't eat canned pureed foods because they all taste the same, right?

2. When baby is comfortably eating and chewing solids (and even before then), allow them to eat the same meal you are eating. They like to feel as though they are a part of what you are doing. If they see they only get mashed potato while you also have peas and carrots, they won't be able to tell you they're feeling left out. This is important for toddlers, as they have very clear boundaries about what is 'mine' and 'yours'. If you're concerned that feeding your children what you eat will not be healthy, perhaps it's a sign that you're not eating healthily enough.

3. Offer the meal as a selection of finger foods combined with food they'll need to eat with a fork or spoon. Toddlers live very tactile lives and need to touch the things around them. For example, if we're having chickpea burgers, I will slice the patties, cheese, tomato, pickles and whatever else we have on our burgers into pieces equally large enough for either the fork or the finger. Supply a fork but don't force your child to eat with it. If you don't want a mess when you're eating at a restaurant or are a guest elsewhere, feed your child yourself instead of scolding them because their coordination is not perfect - while you say you're scolding them because they've made a mess, you're really showing disappointment that they cannot feed themselves. And they're toddlers still learning to use their bodies.

4. Encourage good eating manners from the beginning. Don't allow them to throw food at you or on the floor. However, once again remember that their coordination is not as good as yours, so recognise mistakes as just that. It is purposeful bad manners you wish to avoid. All this being said, an extremely formal eating environment will only breed mistakes: sitting in a high chair makes toddlers feel left out; they do not fit at tables and they have to reach and bend in awkward positions to feed themselves, inevitably messing on themselves. Invest in a booster seat that you can fix to one of the dining room chairs or join your child on the floor.

5. Encourage your child to drink water from an early age. While juices have their place, they should ultimately be regarded as a treat rather than the only means by which your child can consume liquids. Juices are high in unnecessary sugar so rather ensure that you have a bottle filled with water handy all the time. Take a bottle with you wherever you go and offer water often. Water is a much healthier option to sate your child's thirst, while it will also aid your child's digestive processes. Certainly juices provide additional nutrients but they might take away your child's hunger for food.

6. If your child is refusing food, ensure that there isn't something else they want instead. Is their nappy dirty or do they need to use the toilet? Are they thirsty? (This is a big one - Emma is tempestuous without her water) Perhaps they had a banana for lunch for the last three days or simply do not feel like one today, or perhaps they are still full from the previous meal. Offer healthy snacks during the day as well: Emma loves nuts, wholewheat biscuits, or unsalted popcorn. Involve your child in deciding what they want to eat. If their desire is not appropriate, explain why, offer it later, or be sneaky and misdirect. I know that it is much more convenient to plan meals ahead of time but involving your child is better than having a 15 minute fight because they don't feel like whatever's on the table.

I would love to your own tips on feeding toddlers or any of your feedback!

{Image credit: Flickr/simpleinsomnia (CC by 2.0)}


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