Top Tips on Toddler Eating
Toddler eating is a topic that I am often asked about on Instagram and from my 1-1 clients. I know that it is something that can have ups and downs: sometimes over holidays toddlers’ eating can take a turn, so I wanted to discuss how we can help our toddlers to get into a healthy routine with mealtimes and snacks and share some tips for parents and families to be conscious about our little ones’ eating.
I know from own parenting experience and from consulting thousands of families over the years as The Parent and Baby Coach, that the main factor that can affect a toddler’s appetite and create fussiness at the table is snacking! It’s no surprise, is it?! We all do it as adults and I know that giving snacks to children is such a huge part of our society and brings lots of joy, but it does impact how well they then eat a main meal.
Looking at the quantity and size of the snacks that you providing could be a really good place to start, if your toddler is showing fussy eating signs at mealtimes.
Moving from cheese straws and biscuits to a healthier snack can be a great and easy thing to do. Most children struggle to go all the way through from breakfast to lunchtime so I wouldn’t advise that you don’t give them anything, but consider the size of the snack and the time that you give it to them. An hour before lunch is not a good idea! They will, then, definitely pick at their lunch because their appetite isn’t there. If you have an 8am breakfast and midday lunch, 10am is a really good time to provide a snack.
Giving a snack that will sustain them until lunchtime but is healthy can work really well.
If you provide a healthy snack – they’ll only eat it if they’re hungry! Packaging for toddler snacks are so bright and colourful so they pull children into wanting them. Try your hardest not to get sucked into this! They’re great for travelling but, if you’re at home, some oat cakes with peanut butter or a few slices of banana are much healthier and prevents a craving for a branded snack.
Remember who has control over the snacks. If a child can access their own snacks then it can mean it fills them up before meal times. Making snack time adult-led reduces them asking for them all the time.
Don’t force them to eat those two more mouthfuls!
If a child has had enough of their meal, have the confidence to know that it is ok to finish. This is practising responsive feeding. Forcing your child to eat creates a power struggle and a stressful eating experience. You want your parenting to be responsive and so listening to your child and supporting them to enjoy their food and learning when they’re full, is a much more positive way of eating as a family.
Controlled portion size
Portion control is a topic that I often cover with my 1-1 clients and its so important to remember that a clenched fist of a toddler is the size of their tummy when it’s empty. Imagine if you sat down to a gigantic portion of food piled high on your plate at every meal – you might be put off, too! ensuring that we only serve our children the correct amount of food means that they will eat until they’re naturally fully, rather than us cramming food into them or feeling stressed when they won’t eat an entire plateful.
Allow them to be in control of their own appetite and learn when they’re hungry
Giving desserts or puddings after a meal
My normal rule is that we don’t give pudding after every single meal because it can become obvious to a child that they don’t need to eat their whole meal because they’ll get a dessert afterwards. If you give yoghurt or fruit after a meal every few days, they won’t hold out for their pudding and this can be a great way to ensure that your toddler eats their main course.
You could try giving the dessert on the side of their savory course so that they can see it altogether because it shows your child that all of the food means the same. It isn’t a treat. It shows them that all of the food sits on the same level and you don’t have to bribe them to eat their first course!
Stop offering an alternative to a meal
If they haven’t eaten a meal that you’ve prepared, don’t offer them an alternative. We’ve all been there – you’ve prepared a wonderful meal and they won’t eat it so you offer them some toast or something. All this does is it teaches them that they have options over what they eat, which can sometimes lead to a behaviour problem.
If you stick with us, it can really make a huge difference to the foods a child eats and how they feel at family meal times. You can always put something on their plate that you know they do eat, to encourage them nicely into eating the rest of the food. This ties nicely with exposure to a range of foods. If you stop giving them certain foods, then they won’t be exposed them to them. But it’s so important to keep their exposure to a range of foods and flavours is really important as their meal – without an alternative if they refuse to eat what’s on their plate.
If you would like more support with your toddler’s eating, please click here for my 1-1 services.