For toddlers, what and how much they are willing to eat may vary daily. This capricious behavior is due in large part to their ambivalence about independence, and eating is one area where they can act out and show that they’re in control (the other is potty training, but I digress). Personally I stopped being surprised when my child eats copious amounts of food one day and eats practically nothing the next. I have learned that I just need to roll with my toddler’s mood swings and that I may not succeed everyday in getting my picky toddler to eat. Toddlers eat when they are ready to.
What I did learn through trial and error is that it’s always good to make meal time and snack time fun. Sometimes, one small change can make all the difference. This morning after my son begged me to eat one of his favorite snacks for breakfast and I finally gave in with the condition that I put his snack on the same plate as his breakfast. I then made him an egg, broccoli and cucumber sandwich on flax seed bread and told him that in England, “people like to eat cucumber sandwiches, isn’t that funny?” For some reason he thought this was hilarious and he gobbled it up and forgot about his snack.
I consulted with the esteemed Boston Dietician and nutrition expert Skylar Griggs on other helpful ways to manage picky toddler eaters. In addition to her primary practice, she also consults with a local kids-lunch provider, Nomsly, where she’s advised them on how their meals can help parents be successful when dealing with picky eaters. Here 9 tips for getting picky toddlers to eat:
1. Stick to a schedule:
Offer 3 scheduled meals and 2-3 snacks in-between. Offering snacks between meals allows your toddler to arrive at the table hungry but not so hungry that they are tired or cranky.
2. Know the division of responsibilities:
As a parent you are responsible for what and the toddler is responsible for howmuch (and everything else). For more on this check out to the guru of picky eaters, Ellyn Satter. Skylar advised Nomsly on a wide variety of choices for parents so they can pick the right mix of familiar and new foods, encouraging their children to branch out at their own pace with an appropriately diverse menu.
3. Allow your child to self-regulate:
Remember, a child’s stomach is small and can only hold a small amount of food and liquids at one time. Does NOT force feed your toddler or make them finish their meal. Wait for your child to ask for more food before offering them seconds.
4. It’s all about the presentation:
Introduce new foods one at a time and in small portions. It is normal for your toddler to reject a new food, but continue to offer it and at the beginning of a meal when they are hungry. Children often reject unfamiliar foods at first, but repeated attempts can often bring them around.
5. Pair with a purpose:
Continue to offer your toddler familiar and unfamiliar foods that way there will always be something that your toddler will be willing to eat. For instance, Nomsly pairs unusual foods like falafel with familiar sides like cucumber sticks so kids have a familiar reference.
6. Smart drinks:
Give your toddler water if they are thirsty between meals and snacks. Don’t give juices often as they are high in sugar making them less hungry for the next meal or snack.
7. Make it a successful environment:
Do not allow your child to walk around with food or drinks. Children like to eat with others and it helps them learn eating as well as social skills. Help your child pay attention to eating by turning off screens at meal times.
8. Expect a mess!
Eating is a skill that will take time to master. End the meal if your toddler stops eating, pushes the food away, or starts throwing food.
9. Stay neutral:
Do not punish or praise and don’t punish if your toddler refuses to eat their meal or snack. If they do not want to eat then meal time is over. Do not reward or bribe your toddler with food like dessert. This may teach your toddler to ignore his/her hunger cues and learn to overeat.
It can sometimes be hard for busy parents to follow all of these guidelines, especially during a school lunch when parents aren’t around and serving diverse and healthy meals requires a lot of advance planning and preparation. The company that Skylar consults for, Nomsly, can help by taking care of the planning and preparation so parents can relax knowing that their children are building healthy eating habits for life.
Skylar is a dietitian in the cardiology department at Boston Children’s Hospital and owner of Newbury Street Nutrition LLC, a private practice where she works with families on ways to improve their families eating habits. More about Skylar here: https://www.newburystreetnutrition.com/ @SkylarGriggsRD
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