If you are a parent to a toddler or preschooler, you may have noticed that your little one doesn’t naturally incline towards healthy eating. You may have noticed how your toddler won’t eat fruit and vegetables but will gobble up cake and cookies. You may have noticed how things they don’t like go flying across the room in a fit of rage. You may have noticed that mealtimes aren’t the quiet, tranquil affair you’d like them to be.
At times life with toddlers is noisy, frustrating and stressful.
It can be easy to push healthy eating to one side and opt for the quiet life of plain pasta or bread sandwiches. Anyone else got a carb junkie in their family?
But there is a middle road between mealtime battles and only ever serving the same food because you know they’ll eat it without complaint.
Help Your Toddler Eat Healthy
Aim to give your toddler lots of fruit and vegetables and less packaged food, and you’re on the right tracks.
But even if you present them with the most delicious and healthy food, there is still a chance that your toddler is going to throw it across the room at you, and scream and shout and howl.
That’s all normal toddler behaviour. Frustrating, yes. But also normal.
So what are parents supposed to do? How do your turn your toddler who won’t eat into a healthy eater?
You have one main job.
You need to present healthy and delicious food at regular intervals throughout the day. And that’s pretty much it.
A Healthy Eating Routine
Just stick to natural meal and snack times. Most people eat breakfast, mid morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and then dinner.
If your routine isn’t exactly the same, don’t worry. Work out what routine works for you and your family.
Present your toddler with healthy food. You get to choose what you offer. They get to decide what they eat and how much. Don’t be tempted to pressure, bribe or cajole. As tempting as it is, remind yourself not to. Just trust them to eat what they want and to explore new foods and tastes. If they pick out the good bits and leave other bits, that’s fine. Keep presenting lots of healthy fruit and vegetables and less packaged foods.
If they don’t want to eat anything, they’ll probably be hungry later on. A little bit of hunger isn’t a bad thing. Don’t be tempted to cave in and let them eat an entire packet of cookies. They can wait until the next healthy eating time when you’ll offer them some more delicious healthy food.
Presenting New Foods
Presenting new foods to kids can be stressful. If you’ve made it the entire meal, they don’t like it, refuse to even try it and you’ll be left with screaming and starving children. This is not the zen parenting that we’re after! It can take up to 15 times of actually trying a food before kids decide whether they like it or not. And that’s not counting the 15 hundred times that it sits on the side of the plate untouched.
Here’s what I’ve learnt about presenting new foods (the hard way)…
- I never make it the whole meal. (Or if I do, we have a healthy dessert.)
- I give them options (not their favourite food but other things they can eat if they want to).
- I use my poker face. I don’t want them to know that I desperately want them to try it. When they do try it, I do a silent happy dance (in my mind).
- I give them a tiny bit so they are not overwhelmed. (My favourite is to present soup in an espresso cup. So cute!)
- I prepare myself for the fact that they probably won’t eat it, they probably won’t even touch it. That’s fine. It is up to them to choose what they want to eat.
Toddlers appetites can be erratic. 5 bowls of pasta one day, 3 crumbs the next, is normal toddler behaviour. If you’re worried about their intake, keep a food diary for a few days to see how much they’re actually eating.
Don’t expect them to like or even try new foods. Just keep presenting them with patience and persistence.
Toddlers Will Be Toddlers
Life with toddlers is never going to be totally stress free. There will always be times when despite your best efforts, your toddler is screaming. Keep presenting healthy food and don’t enter into that battle of wills, which you won’t win. This advice is easy to understand and much less easy to implement, especially when you’re faced with a screaming toddler. But if you keep presenting your toddler with healthy food options, you’ll be well on the way to teaching them healthy eating habits.
Toddler Feeding Cheat Sheet and Food Diary
If you’re struggling with feeding your toddler, here’s a great cheat sheet to give you the confidence to know you’re teaching them healthy habits. Includes a food diary so that you can measure what and how much they’re eating.
Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
Delicious Discoveries is the perfect way to help your preschooler learn more about the food they eat in a hands on way. There are inviting smelling bottles, great pouring materials, and beautiful botany cards for your family to enjoy!
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– Nathan & Teresa Hadsall