What to do with picky eaters
It is Tuesday morning. This is one of the days that both parents work. The kids are woken up a half an hour earlier than usual, because they get dropped at the babysitter’s or taken to daycare. The children notice that there is a bit more stress today. Get up earlier, get dressed faster and hurriedly prepare school lunches. Mommy and daddy may grumble a bit, and we must also all still eat breakfast… The odds are high that this is when problems arise. One of the kids is taking his or her sweet time with breakfast, or refuses to eat it downright. What now? Do you get mad, or do you let your picky toddler go to school without eating breakfast? (Skip the intro and go straight to the Eating Tips for Toddlers)
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After work you pick up your toddler at the after-school care. Your toddler is tired and you allow him or her to watch television. This gives you time to prepare a healthy meal for the family. But when everybody is seated at the table, problems arise again. The same green beans that your toddler was happy to eat last week, have suddenly fallen out of grace! He or she is picking at the food without actually eating any of it. When you want to help out, he or she pushes the spoon away. Daddy gets angry… and so on. What now? Do you still give your child a dessert, or do you find something else to eat? Or should he or she go to bed without having eaten dinner?
It is for you that I have written down the 20 Best Eating Tips for Toddlers. Guaranteed that you will find a solution here!
The Picky Toddler
A toddler’s age is a great age. I can say from 30 years of experience as a kindergarten teacher, that this is also a very specific age. In this period of self-realization for the child, he or she is so wrapped up in his or her own ego that it is not yet possible to empathize with others. As he or she becomes more independent, refusing things will allow the feeling of power. This is also when problems develop. You know: Sleep, behavior and eating problems. On sleep problems I have written a previous blog post. When it comes to eating problems, especially refusing food can turn into a major battle of the wills. To prevent this from happening and to present solutions when this problem does arise, I have written down the 20 Best Eating Tips for Toddlers for you.
20 Best Eating Tips for (Picky) Toddlers
There are no golden rules, but there are suggestions to make your meal time pleasant, and ensure that your picky toddler will become a good eater again.
Let children have a say in what’s for dinner
For example, let them come up with the dessert, or ask them what else could be added to the soup. But also: Talk about healthy food. Talk about how children grow and the role of food in this process. What is edible and what isn’t. What do animals eat and what do people eat. A great interactive book for toddlers about this is:
Let toddlers help prepare food
Try to let them help out as much as possible; the washing and/or dicing of the vegetables, trim the green beans or set the table.
Let toddlers play with real food or play food
Because of the role-play your toddler will engage in, food will become interesting. It will be a lot of fun for your child to play with real food or play food in a play kitchen. This wooden play kitchen is a great imitation of the stove in your home and will inspire your child to play the imaginative role of ‘chef in the kitchen’.
Snack on pieces of raw veggies
Many children do not like cooked vegetables. Many kinds of vegetables can be eaten raw, and very often children highly prefer the taste of raw vegetables to that of cooked ones. So, when you are cooking, hand out the occasional piece of raw vegetable to nibble on. This way your toddler has already eaten quite a bit before meal time starts, and you no longer need to worry if he or she is eating enough vitamins.
Eat together, at the same time
Children imitate behavior. If parents eat at the same time as their children, the kids will learn from their parents. It helps if you as parents regularly tell each other how delicious the food is, and if you pay compliments to the person who prepared the food. Do this, and when they eat somewhere else, you will be amazed to see how well they are actually doing; how much they picked up from dinner time together, with the family.
Deep plates and handy cutlery
For toddlers, with their small hands and their lacking motor skills, it is very hard to eat properly. Still they want and have to learn this skill. Important in this learnig process is that there are some ‘wins’. A three-year-old who tries, but whose food still often ends up next to his or her mouth, gets frustrated. Therefore give a toddler a deep plate. Slice the food into ready to eat pieces. Encourage them to use both a spoon and a fork. A four-year-old can handle a (not too sharp) knife. Be careful not to set your goals and expectations too high when it comes to your toddler’s table manners. Most important is that food time is pleasant and that he or she enjoys eating along with the family and that he or she ingests enough nutrients.
In my opinion the following cutlery is great for toddlers. Because of its nifty design it is easily handled by your toddler’s small hands.
Don’t make portions (too) large
It is important that a child finds joy in, and keeps finding joy in, eating and food. Be sure not to serve too much food all at once. A large amount of food all at once can be discouraging. Besides, with smaller portions your toddler might even come to ask for seconds. Use small plates. There is great children’s tableware for sale that will stimulate your child to eat. I am enthusiastic about the following tableware: The plate is divided into four parts, so that your child has an organized plate. It is made from bamboo fiber, it is ecological and safe.
Teach a child to taste
A toddler’s taste is developing. If your child refuses green beans once, it will mean that he or she won’t eat them the next time they are served either. Each and every time, pretend like you are clueless, and offer everything that you also eat yourself. Just be careful that the food is not too spicy for your toddler.
Teach your child to make a habit out of having a little taste of the things he or she does not like to eat. It is not necessary to eat it all. Compliment your toddler when he or she tastes the unliked food. Mix vegetables with strong flavors with potatoes, rice or pasta. Children have a stronger sense of taste, which is why they more quickly dislike certain types of food. After weakening their flavor, certain vegetables will be eaten by your picky toddler.
Food is not a punishment nor a reward
Parents used to play some awful tricks to make their children eat. Noses were held shut, so that the spoon could enter the mouth at last. And some kids were tied to their highchair until they finished their food. Odds are that these children grew up to have an unhealthy relationship with food. In order to prevent this, it is important not to force your child to eat something that he or she really does not want to eat. The ‘no dessert as punishment’ is not a great idea. Using dessert as a reward isn’t a great idea either. In both cases an unhealthy relationship with food can develop, which could possibly lead to the development of eating disorders at a later age.
Take your time for meals
Try to turn every meal into ‘time with the family’. Do this as much as possible; especially for dinner. Breakfast is usually a bit rushed, and for lunch not all members of the family are present.
Dinner is the perfect time to be paying attention. Not just to the food itself, but also to each other. After an exciting day at work, parents might want to tell each other a lot of things, but it is important to postpone this. Take the time and try to engage your kids in the dinner conversation as much as possible. This teaches a child that eating together is pleasant, and that there is more to it than just ingesting food.
Don’t eat too late
Most children get hungry around 5/ 5.30 PM. Their body is asking for a new boost of energy. If they do not get this, they will become lethargic, weepy and cross. Try to stay ahead of this, by sitting down for meals on time. Try to be as consistent as possible when it comes to meal times. If one of the parents is home late regularly, it is best to have the child eat with one parent at the regular dinner time, and to let the other parent eat alone later. Children learn to eat by imitating adults. Therefore try to make sure that they don’t eat on their own often.
Do not turn dinner time into a battle of the wills
Is your toddler not eating, then let it be. Do not enter into a discussion. Everyone else at the table should keep eating in as much of a relaxed and pleasant way as possible. Children do not worry about eating healthily, what they do notice is if meal times are enjoyable. It is important that your toddler stays at the table, even if he or she is not eating. Let him or her join in on the conversation and tell you about their day.
No vegetables, just fruit
A child that doesn’t like to eat vegetables will often still eat fruit. During this phase, make sure your toddler eats relatively more fruit, to ensure their intake of vitamins and nutrients. This is not the end of the world if it lasts for a little while. Of course your toddler will still join at the dinner table as per usual. Often he or she will still probably pick a little bit of food off of their plate and eat it any way. If this happens, be sure to pay him or her a compliment.
Temporarily a bit more bread
If your child does enjoy eating bread, fruit and milk, let him or her eat lots of these foods. Perhaps give your toddler a slice of bread as a snack. This will take the pressure off of the hot meal of the day.
Do not give your toddler too many snacks in the afternoon if he or she is having trouble with the hot meal of the day; it could be that he or she simply doesn’t have much of an appetite left by the time dinner comes. 2 Cookies or 1 apple provide just as much energy as one slice of bread; 1 box of raisins provides as much energy as ½ slice of bread; 1 small bag of chips provides as much energy as 2 slices of bread.
Get your child used to drinking water. It is an important thirst quencher, without being too filling.
Hold back on candy
Around this age a toddler also discovers the existence of candy. Give out candy only sparingly: it is unhealthy, bad for the teeth and it diminishes the appetite. It is also recommended to have a fixed moment for candy during the day, such as the moment that your child comes home from school.
Candy to console
Do not turn food or candy into consolation. It happens quite a bit that parents give a piece of candy to stop the crying. This could have the dangerous side effect of turning your child into an emotional eater. Emotional eaters turn to food when they are in emotional situations; they tend to overeat and they tend to eat unhealthily.
If your child goes to daycare, ask the daycare leader what you child eats when he or she is there. Often you will see that a kid just joins in with the group and eats everything the rest eats. In that case you do not have to worry if your toddler is eating enough on those daycare days.
Skipped a meal?
If your child hasn’t eaten at all or has hardly eaten anything, do not give into his or her cravings at their first hunger pang (which could be as quickly as half an hour after the meal).
It is better to point out that meal time is now over, and that, for example, something healthy could be eaten when it is time for coffee (perhaps you could move up your coffee time a bit).
To the General Practitioner
If you have tried everything and you are still stuck with the feeling that your child is not eating sufficiently in order to stay healthy, do the following: For two weeks, write down everything your child eats and drinks. After two weeks, present this journal to your general practitioner. Often it turns out that food intake levels are not all that alarmingly low after all.
Do not worry straight away
A toddler doesn’t grow as fast as a baby does. Babies grow very quickly – a 6-month old baby can gain a kg every 8 weeks. A toddler will gain about 1 kg over 6 months. It is therefore normal that your toddler will eat less than when he or she was a baby.
There is no one food that is absolutely essential in a child’s diet, and there are a variety of food options to replace any refused or disliked ingredient. If, for example, your child is refusing to drink milk, you can make sure he or she still gets enough calcium and egg whites by giving him or her cheese, smoothies or yoghurt.
Do you have a question or a comment? please let me know. Leave a message!
This message contains affiliated and / or paid links, which means that if you click on one of these links and buy a product, I can earn a small commission without incurring extra costs. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I love of companies that I trust. Furthermore, I am not a medical professional and nothing in this message can be considered as medical advice. I am just a mother who has been there and has lived to tell the story.