Enjoy Mealtime and Develop Great Eating Habits with a Toddler



Yes. You read the heading right. Mealtime can be fantastic with kids. And kids will learn how to eat well and a variety of nutritious foods without going to war.

One of the biggest concerns my clients have about their toddlers is whether they’re eating enough. Parents lament that their kids are picky eaters, grazers, or just “get bored” while eating. Mealtime becomes battle time. Many parents fall into the short-order cook, circus performer, or military general trap just to get a few bites into their toddler’s mouth.

I imagine some of these scenarios are familiar:

  • Playing airplane.
  • Cajoling a child to eat “just two more bites” before he gets down from the table.
  • Spooning soup, oatmeal, or pasta in while a child is distracted watching TV.
  • “You will not leave the table until you eat everything on your plate.”
  • Bribery! That brownie can be yours … just finish your pasta.
  • Cooking a grilled cheese sandwich, just so she’ll eat something.

My clients will do almost anything to get healthy food into their children’s mouths. And I, of course, can understand. The link between great eating habits and health are undeniable.

But I implore you to step back and relinquish control. And, by doing so, you can go back to enjoying meals and family time. Here are a few things you might not know about toddlers and eating:

  • Toddlers are resistant to new things. With the exception of that perfect kid who eats broccoli and Brussels sprouts in your child’s kindergarten class, every toddler is resistant to new flavors and textures. Relax.
  • Toddlers have a biological regulator … their bodies know what they need and how much. They’re intuitive eaters. So, if they’re offered a variety of options, daily, they’ll get the food they need.
  • Toddlers’ eating habits are irregular. Actually, they’re maddening erratic. One day, they’ll eat everything. The next, they’ll pick. You can’t gauge a toddler’s nutrition per day, instead per week.
  • No child will starve himself or herself.

how-to-get-your-kid-to-eatEllyn Satter’s book, How to Get Your Kid to Eat … But Not Too Much is one of my favorite book recommendations for new parents. I remember seeing the light in the eyes of one of my clients go off when she read the following phrase: “The parent is responsible for WHAT, the child is responsible for HOW MUCH and even WHETHER.” (Satter, p.46)

I just want to add, “the when.” As a parent, you determine when meals and snacks will be served and what you will serve. Yep. That’s it.  Your job is done. Your child’s responsibility is to join you at the table and choose what to eat, how much to eat, or whether to eat.
So here are 5 tips to make mealtime family time, as it should be. Take off the battle armor and enjoy!

  • Make mealtime family time: This is not optional. The family sits to eat together. You are the best model of good eating habits your child will have. So how you approach your plate, whether you try new things, if you are mindful of what is on your plate, and treat food with respect and gratitude, will be transmitted to your child. This is the time to teach manners and appropriate eating behaviors. This is the time to share as a family.
  • Have Snack Routines: To avoid the I’m-not-hungry-for-dinner-but-now-I-am-before-bed trap, make it clear that there will be snack times. As toddlers have small tummies, they need extra fuel during the day. But they need to learn that mealtime is mealtime.
  • Turn off Distractions: No TV, no computers, no newspapers, no toys. No exceptions. Teach children that sitting to eat with family is something to look forward to.
  • feeding-toddlersOffer a Variety of Foods: Okay, this is where you have to be flexible. I always recommend having one thing that your child will like at a meal, whether it’s cut up apples, rice, chicken … whatever they like. That’s okay. That’s the comfort zone food. Then pretty soon, she’ll be willing to try more foods. This will stop you from becoming a short order cook. Whatever is served is what’s for dinner (breakfast, lunch etc.). There will be something she will eat.
  • You Do Not Have to Eat: Learn these words. Etch them in your brain. Because this is what will free you from the battle. Mealtime should be a time without pressure. And, more likely than not, when she gets to the table, she’ll find something to nibble on.