Four Tips for Raising a Good Eater: Toddler Edition
Posted Oct 10 2013 7:15am
As parents, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. For the latter, I struggle with figuring out how to get Hailey to ditch the pacifier. I wonder how I’ve possibly let so many toys take over the house when I swore we were minimalists. I feel guilty I never made a legit baby book.
However, one thing I’m proud of is the way Hailey eats. She’s newly 2 and I can honestly say we have no issues with food.
Some say I may have just gotten lucky. Maybe that’s true and all of this will come back to bite me with any future children, but I feel confident that certain habits we’ve adopted ensure she keeps eating well. I believe this because if I start to slack in those areas, I notice a difference.
1. Stop the All-Day Snacking. I might be able to stop here and call it a day. I suggest this for several reasons. First of all, snack foods tend to be less nutritionally dense than meal-time foods. Pretzels, puffs, popcorn, fruit snacks, Goldfish, etc aren’t doing much besides entertaining their mouth and filling their stomachs with mostly empty calories. It’s no wonder that after snacking all afternoon they don’t want their dinner; they aren’t hungry. I feed Hailey a small snack after nap, usually a yogurt and fruit, and that’s it until dinner. Occasionally, she’ll those have access to snacks, like on playgroup afternoons. She’ll down them like it’s nobody’s business and on those days I can pretty much count on only 4-5 bites for dinner.
If a child is used to snacking all day, it’s going to take some adjustment, but a toddler can go without food for 3 hours without withering away. I guarantee it.
2. Cook One (Healthy) Meal and Everyone Eat It. If I’m eating something different than Hailey, it’s certain that she will prefer whatever it is I am eating. To fix this, we eat the same meal or I eat later, once she is in bed. If chicken, potatoes and broccoli are for dinner, then those are the options. I’m not going to make her something special. It’s best she learn early that I’m not a short-order chef.
3. Be Consistent and Stop the Back-Up Meals. If a child knows he can refuse dinner, but get something different later because his parents are worried he didn’t eat anything, guess what, he’s going to skip dinner in favor of the peanut butter and jelly or fruit snacks he knows he can get later. They are smart little people! We don’t do dessert regularly and when Hailey gets to the table, she knows that is what she gets. I know she likes some food more than others (hooray it’s cherry tomatoes! or boo it’s sautéed peppers), but it is what it is.
4. Don’t Turn Meal Time into a Battle. Like all toddlers, Hailey has days where certain foods don’t strike her fancy. I’m fine with that. If she eats all the potatoes and broccoli but hardly touches the chicken, I really don’t mind. I know it will change tomorrow. She can eat as much as she wants to from the options available at that meal, because I feel good about everything on her plate.
I also don’t push for the clean plate club, which I think drives David a little crazy. My hippy-minded self wants her to learn to listen to her own hunger cues. Some meals she may only eat a few bites, but she will then make up for it at the next meal. I know a child will not starve themselves.
Disclaimer: These may be boldly stated, but I really believe strongly in these tips because they’ve worked for us. We’ve gone through a few finicky stages ourselves, but by sticking to my principles, all the phases have passed quickly. I promise to continue to be upfront and honest and if she hits a phase where she won’t eat a thing, I will come back and publicly eat my words.
Your turn! Please share…
What tips to you have for combatting picky eating?