Despite being so young, toddlers who won’t eat somehow manage to combine great willpower with the stubbornness of a mule. If your little angel will eat anything you place in front of them one day, then lunch becomes a battle the next, it may have something to do with your approach at mealtime.
But don’t worry, you can get your toddler eating again with a few minor adjustments to your routine. Here are a few things you need to know.
1. Picky eating isn’t a problem.
Many parents will say their child is a picky eater like it’s a bad thing because it’s often stigmatized as such. Children’s tastes and eating habits change as they grow, and this change can feel alarming to parents and caregivers.
Studies have shown kids actually develop a fear of new foods between 2 and 6 years old, but that the fear eventually diminishes as they grow. It’s important for parents to realize this is a normal part of their child’s development. When parents stop blaming themselves or their kids for their anxiety and resistance toward certain foods, mealtime can be more pleasant for everyone.
2. Limit choices.
Parents often think the best way to nourish their picky toddler is to offer as many food choices as possible. If there are more choices available, the child will have to like at least one of the options, right? Not necessarily.
Offering multiple choices may just get you extra “nos” in return. Meals don’t need to be toddler approved, and parents and caregivers aren’t children’s personal chefs. Simply plan meals with at least one item you know you child enjoys, peppering in favorites every once in awhile. If you are feeling brave and want your child to have some input, make sure you limit it to just two options.
3. Avoid too many snacks.
A toddler’s stomach is much smaller than an adult’s, so it doesn’t take a lot for them to get full. If you want to be sure they’re eating enough nutritious foods at meal times, be sure to limit the amount of snacks they’re allowed throughout the day, and that includes milk and juice.
Liquids other than water will cause a toddler to feel fuller. If they drink too much milk, they simply won’t be hungry at mealtime. Toddlers should only drink 3 to 4 ounces of milk per day and no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice.
It also helps to maintain a regimented snack and mealtime routine. When snacks and meals are eaten at predictable times every day, you won’t have to worry about your toddler feeling hungry and they won’t have to worry about whether their Goldfish or Cheerios will be served before their tummy starts grumbling.
4. Know your role.
There are two main mistakes many parents make when it comes to feeding their children: Either they try to control too many aspects of their child’s eating habits or they allow their little tyke too much freedom.
Micromanaging the way a toddler eats will inevitably result in a frustrating interaction. However, allowing a tot free rein to have any food they request or to snack all day long isn’t the answer either.
Parents who struggle with their children’s behavior and appetites at meal times might benefit from looking into a program called the Division of Responsibility in Feeding, created by Ellyn Satter.
This technique outlines these specific roles for parents and toddlers during mealtime: Parents decide what, when, and where their children eat, while children determine how much, and whether or not, they eat a food item.
No matter what, caring for a toddler will involve some difficult and trying times. Hopefully these feeding tips will help parents to create less stressful meals for everyone involved and nurture kids to grow up to be adventurous eaters.