Toddlers refusing to eat can get pretty ugly. With my son Jake, my pleading often turns to yelling and, ugh, even banging the table. He usually gives in by stuffing food down just to get rid of it. Not exactly creating a pleasant eating environment! So, I breathed easier when seeing this on Dr. Sears’ website: “Since erratic eating habits are as normal as toddler mood swings, expect your child to eat well one day and eat practically nothing the next.” It’s Jake exactly.
For you exasperated parents who are also perplexed by your toddler’s eating, here are some tips from Sears and my experiences with Jake:
- Try not to focus too much on daily eating but weekly. Reassure yourself that a normal, healthy toddler is fickle. One entire day Jake fussed and would only drink milk; the next day he ate three very full and even balanced meals. Take advantage of the good days by offering as many nutritious foods as possible.
- Try to eat with your child, or at least taste the food together. I sure wouldn’t want someone staring at me during meals holding a spoon to my face. If the focus isn’t on “Jake finishing his plate” but on enjoying good food together, he’s more likely to eat, and especially try new foods.
- It’s ok if your child only wants hot dogs or pasta for lunch every day. Toddlers do well with routines, including having familiar foods. They’ll outgrow the one-track eating; just patiently but consistently offer new foods.
- Ignore conventional beliefs about meals. Meatloaf for breakfast? Cheerios for dinner? Why not?
- Allow food play time, an important ritual for toddlers. I was about to throw away a plate of chicken Jake had been playing with for about 10 minutes but then he picked up a piece, nibbled it, and then ate another...
- If your child still eats poorly at meals, try to cut down on snacks. My downfall with Jake is milk. It's nutritious and he begs for it so that I can hardly say no. But he does lose his appetite the more he drinks.
Child nutritionist, Ellyn Satter, counsels “Don’t pressure; they’ll eat when they’re hungry.” Children have an unspoiled, innate sense of hunger and satiety: they eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. It’s something that we adults forget as we eat more for pleasure or to fill cravings, and we keep eating long after we’re full. According to Satter, our job to foster good eating habits includes:
- Offering nutritious foods
- Giving the food at regular times
- Creating a pleasant eating atmosphere
The child decides whether he or she wants to eat the food and how much to eat.
For more tips, see these excellent resources:
Copyright 2009 Nancy Oliveira, FitMamaEats. All Rights Reserved.