By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist
Your toddler is now enjoying his newfound independence and skill set. Some of that independence may reveal itself at the dinner table, with strong opinions flying about his likes and dislikes. This is perfectly normal as food choice is one of the first places toddlers assert their independence.
The first 3 years of your child’s life is an ideal time to begin lifelong healthy eating habits. Preparing fresh nutritious foods, without added salt or sugar, will have her reaching for healthy snacks when she gets older. Avoiding canned, artificially flavored, or highly processed foods will set the standard for what food is supposed to taste like.
Mealtime and toddler feeding tips:
Have faith: Trust your child’s own innate ability to listen to his hunger or fullness cues. Appetites in toddlers often decline around ages 2-3, so he may be eating less than you think he should. As long he is healthy, has energy, and is growing normally then he is just fine.
Don’t force: Never force her to eat or “clean her plate″, this will lead to unhealthy eating habits later in her life.
Prepare for food jags: She may be in a food rut, asking for the same foods all the time for several days. This is ok; try not to force her to eat something she doesn’t want to. Offer the food she likes, along with a few other healthy options for variety.
Lead by example: Children learn by watching you, so set healthy mealtime habits. Turn off the TV and let your toddler enjoy meals with the family. Remember, he is more likely to eat the foods that you are eating too!
Be consistent: Offer meals and snacks around the same time everyday in an established eating environment (e.g. TV off, at the table, etc.).
Keep trying: Research shows that kids may need to see the same food 10-20 times before they’ll like it. If she doesn’t want it this week, try again next week.
Keep the old, while bringing in the new: It is best to introduce a new food when served with a food he already likes.
Let him help: Let him help you in the kitchen, he is more likely to try a food he helped prepare.
Avoid bribing: Do not bribe her with dessert in order to get her to eat all her dinner, this could teach her to overeat. “Dessert″ should be an occasional treat no more than 1-2 times per week
Mix it up: try offering food in different forms- he didn’t like peas? Try pea soup next time.
Offering 3 nutritious meals and 2 healthy snacks for your toddler is your job, letting her decide how much and what to eat is hers. Your toddler may prefer to graze on small bits of food throughout the day and may find playing far more interesting than eating. Keep in mind her tiny tummy fills up much faster than yours does and the rapid growth rate she experienced in infancy has slowed down quite a bit. You may also want to set out a “nibble tray″, as highlighted on Ask Dr. Sears , with bite sized bits of nutritious foods she could stop and snack on as she makes her rounds through the house.