I am prompted to write this blog as I have recently worked with a number of wonderful parents at their wits end with feeding their toddler. They have found themselves regressing back to bottles of milk and topping up with yoghurts in order to ‘get something into them’. The result? The scenarios parents contact me about? …. haphazard, drawn out mealtimes, irritable parents, irritable toddlers, a dread of mealtimes and a constant worry of how their child is developing. For some it can be so difficult when your toddler develops a ‘pickiness’ around her food. The meals she ate with relish make their way to the floor and the bin. Your toddler says “No” and means no. You put the food away disheartened as you have spent ages making a shepherds pie from scratch or the very same food she loved a few days ago she wouldn’t even touch. I remember it so well.
Don’t take it personally or as a sign that your toddler is ‘naughty’ or that there is something nutritionally wrong with her. This is a grossly normal phase of development for most toddlers between the ages of 1 and 4 years in particular. Take it for what it is – your toddler is asserting her independence – expressing her will and communicating clearly her likes and dislikes. That’s all well and good I hear you but what about her nutritional needs? – Most of us would have pudding and hot chocolate given the choice. This is where we do have to set loving limits and offer choices that are healthy for our toddler. Equally we don’t offer so many choices that they are having a taste of different foods/menu at each sitting. That is unrealistic and sets a precedence for fussy eating. Very easily food and mealtimes can become a power and control struggle and therefore not a positive experience for parents or toddlers. Avoid this scenario by taking a step back – look at what mealtimes currently look like. Why are you feeling stressed? Are you getting pressure from others? Does this behaviour feed into what was ‘unacceptable’ when you were little? Are there areas which could change? Remember consistency as with everything else in parenting is absolutely key!
So what should mealtimes look like for your toddler. The following are my 10 top tips for toddler mealtimes:
- Toddler mealtimes go more smoothly when they are offered as part of the daily routine ie 3 mealtimes and 2 snacks offered daily.
- Check your toddlers milk intake – are they having too much milk – this is the number one offender when it comes to suppressing appetite. Calculate milk intake over a 24 hour period. Do not offer milk as a top up for food not eaten – break the cycle.
- Toddlers are extremely sociable beings – they will eat much better when others are eating with them – FACT!
- Mealtimes should preferably be at the table – consistently. No T.V or other distractions during mealtimes – you are encouraging mindful eating.
- Offer a choice for some things eg toast or cereal, apple or banana. When the choice is made stay with it.
- When its clear your toddler is finished – accept it – do not force or try to squeeze in one more! Respect your toddlers choice.
- Do not make a fuss – let your toddler leave the table. One refusal does not mean she doesn’t like it – OFFER, OFFER, OFFER
- Do not offer milk/yoghurt /meal replacement drinks etc. Done is Done!
- Be creative with healthy snacks -don’t offer it on the run whenever possible. Sit down – enjoy the time together – have a cup of tea.
- Your toddler should have a vitamin supplement of Vitamins A, C and D if they are still breastfeeding or if they are having cows milk as a drink.
If you are unsure of what your toddlers needs are and have concerns see a health professional. Get the support you need and develop a plan. I see lots of parents with these issues and very quickly it gets resolved. Without doubt, early intervention is far easier for everyone than treating established issues.
Finally, I promise you , hand on heart that this too passes and the fussiest of eaters in the early years do enjoy good food as older children and adults.