Take the Struggle Out of Toddler Mealtime with These Easy Tips

After our babies start solids, it’s a whole new stage not only for them but also for us.

We are always busy keeping an eye (or should I say, both eyes?) on them checking for allergy symptoms, likes and dislikes, portions and nutrition.

I’ve even made charts for my child that included food names, reactions, quantities and other important things.

Our children need to eat. But it can be easy to get so obsessed with getting enough nutrition in our kids that we try to force feed them.

Trust me, this does not help your child!

This only teaches them to dislike food and in turn, mealtime will be a power struggle. They will benefit much more from a few tablespoons of willingly taken applesauce than a bowl of force-fed carrots.

Do you know how much food your child needs to eat? Read this post to plan meal for your toddler.

What can I do? My child doesn’t eat anything at all!

I’ve heard many moms saying that. They are worried that their kids aren’t getting enough nutrition.

Well, the good news is, as long as your child is energetic and drinking enough, they’re fine.

Children eat when they need to eat. Many kids need more food to function while some can function just fine by eating a small quantity.

The best thing we can do is to let them listen to their body cues.

That obviously doesn’t mean that you should let your baby starve. They might be so busy with playing and discovering the world that they forget about food (I’ve heard that Einstein used to forget eating, fingers crossed for our little Einsteins!).

But there is a healthy balance.

Is mealtime a power struggle for you and your child?

Let’s see why that is and what you can do to make mealtime easier.

First, let’s think about the mealtime troubles we have with kids. Do any of these sound familiar?

  1. My child doesn’t eat enough.
  2. My child doesn’t eat enough vegetables.
  3. My child doesn’t try new food.

Read along to discuss these problems one by one and find out how to deal with them.

1. My Child Doesn’t Eat Enough

So…you prepare food for your child… set up his plate with high hopes…and he takes a few spoons and done!

It can be upsetting.

Now what are you going to do? Force him to finish it all? Scold him for not doing so? Grab him and force food into his mouth?

Of course not!

You’re going to take a step back.

First of all, think. Why do you think that he’s not eating enough? Does he get sick often or do you think he’s underweight?

You should realize that if your child is up and running then he’s usually getting enough nutrition. In any case, you should consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns about your child’s nutrition or weight.

If you tend to panic because your child doesn’t finish everything on the plate, ask yourself. Does he really need to finish it?

Rethink the portions if you tend to serve more than he can eat at once. Minimize the portions and let him ask for more if he finishes it all.

Still not eating? Think again.

How do you plate his food? Does it taste bad? Is there any item that he loves or hates? Does it look appetizing?

Adults will eat food if it’s healthy or tastes good or if they’re hungry. Children are not like that. They use all their senses to decide whether they’ll eat or not. So, it should look appealing to them.

Here are some tips for making food more appealing for children:

  • Use a beautiful plate with sections and pictures.
  • Use a bigger plate so that the portions look smaller in size.
  • Use cookie cutters and give shapes to fish pieces, rice, eggs and bread.
  • Serve a variety of items, with at least one of your child’s favorites.
  • Serve five small meals rather than three large ones.

2. My Child Doesn’t Eat Enough Vegetables

Our children should eat vegetables, but most of them don’t want to eat them. Do not force your kids to eat vegetables. If you do so, it will turn them off even more.

How can we encourage them to eat vegetables?

Firstly, don’t tell them. Instead, show them. Eat vegetables in front of them and show them that you enjoy it.

Secondly, present it differently so that they enjoy it. Thirdly, serve small portions (like only one piece of broccoli) to start.

So what happens when you keep eating vegetables and present it beautifully and in small pieces but they still don’t eat that? Don’t react even if all the vegetables are untouched on the plate. But keep serving it every single day.

It takes a lot of patience but we have to keep doing it. They’ll get so used to it then they’ll eventually take a bite, and they might also like it! In the meantime, try providing food with hidden veggies.

Let’s see how we can make vegetables tastier for toddlers:

  • Serve sautéed vegetables with cheese spread on top.
  • Serve it with dips like avocado or tomato.
  • Make smoothies or pancakes with vegetables like spinach or pumpkin. They won’t even know.
  • I make pasta and fried rice with thinly shredded carrots and green beans. My little one gets tired of picking out the small pieces and eventually eats quite a lot of them.

3. My Child Doesn’t Try New Food

The easiest stage of feeding babies is 6 to 8 months.

You serve purees to them and most of them enjoy different flavors. As they grow into toddlers and learn to be independent, a new battle starts. They can start to refuse new food without even tasting it.

We cannot keep giving only five items throughout the year, though. Toddlers should eat a variety of food to stay healthy. But if you think that you should have a different type of breakfast every morning, you might be slightly overthinking.

If your child loves oatmeal, it’s no harm to serving it five days in a row. Just make sure he’s getting enough nutrients with it.

But, we don’t want to grow a picky eater. They should be enthusiastic to try new tastes and flavor.

Let’s see how we can help them to try new food:

  • Take it slow. Don’t serve a new item every single day. Give one a day, keep serving it for 2-3 days. Then give it a break and go back to the usual for the next three days.
  • Don’t pay too much attention to that new food or talk about it. Just serve it casually.
  • Let others enjoy that particular food. My toddler refused to drink milk from a cup for a long time. When he saw his parents drink it at night, suddenly he wanted it and now he enjoys drinking milk!

Finally, we have to be consistent and patient with our children.

Develop healthy food habits in them with love, not with fear. Let go of the power struggle and let mealtime be fun for them, and relaxing for you.

More healthy eating ideas for kids…

If your toddler is a picky eater, try these tips to get them on the right track to establishing healthy, nutritious eating habits. They can learn to love fruits and vegetables. Train their palettes to love healthy foods now and they will grow making wise food choices in the future!
Baby eating a cherry, a dangerous food.
homemade baby food in a bowl
About the Author

Priyanka Nawar is co-founder and author of thatfatdiary.com and working mom of a two year old. She loves reading books, writing blogs and spending time with her son. She loves to share tips with women about home, self-care, kids and relationships.

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