One of the hurdles toddler parents need to overcome is mealtime. Depending on the day, getting through a meal with a toddler may be an enjoyable, bonding experience or it may feel like a battle — one that you’re losing. Take the fight out of dinner with this toddler feeding guide (or at least make it less difficult) and you’ll be chatting — and eating! — through a civilized meal again in no time.
You may be doing the cooking, but food isn’t the only thing you need to prepare ahead of mealtime. You’ll want to give your little one some signals that a transition is looming from whatever they’re doing to sitting down at the table. They may see the signs of your cooking, but a few minutes ahead of serving the food, you’ll want to let them know that breakfast/lunch/dinner is almost ready. If you can, make eye contact with your tot and let them know that they’ll need to stop what they’re doing shortly.
Once your meal is ready, help your toddler transition from their activity to washing their hands. This is a good habit to instill ahead of meals and can be an easier step than going directly to sit down at the table.
Depending on how old your toddler is, they may be in a booster seat, high chair, or real chair. Unless your toddler is too big for their high chair or doesn’t want to sit in it anymore, there’s no harm in continuing to use it for however long it works for your family. If your tot isn’t able to see their food when sitting in a real chair, you’ll probably want to opt for a booster. Seeing the food in front of them will increase the likelihood of them actually eating it. Plus, many booster seats have straps so your toddler won’t be able to climb down mid-meal.
Mealtime with Your Tot
Now that you’re all seated at the table (congrats!), it’s time to enjoy your meal. When possible, sit down together as a family. Even if you’re not eating a full meal with your children, at least snack on something small or have something to drink. This will establish a bonding routine for your family that you can carry on through the years — and that will provide a lifetime of benefits for your tot.
Having a toddler feeding schedule that’s roughly the same each day will help, too. If you’ve got a toddler, you know how important routines can be, and mealtimes are no exception!
Keep any discussion of the food you’re eating positive. You want your toddler to associate eating with feeling good and any cajoling through threats or negativity will make them dread mealtimes. We also recommend removing technology from the table. This will limit distraction so everyone stays focused on the food and each other.
Serve toddler-sized portions of food to your little one. A serving size for a toddler is about what can fit in the palm of their hand, so this is a good place to start. A full-size plate of food can be overwhelming for little ones; keeping portions small will help them feel more able to manage the food — and you can always dole out seconds if they want more. Cut up the food you’re serving appropriately for your toddler so as not to pose a choking hazard. Toddlers should always be supervised while eating.
Do you have a picky eater? Many toddlers are not interested in eating anything but a handful of foods — and aren’t willing to try anything else. This can be extremely frustrating for parents, but try not to bring your frustration to the table. If you can, serve at least one food you know your toddler will like during every meal. Encourage them to try foods that they are hesitant about — but again, stay positive as you do it. And don’t linger too long on it. Conversing about subjects other than the food on your plates is important, too.
It can take up to 20 times for a child to develop a taste for a certain food. Continue to serve healthy foods over and over again. You can also serve similar foods to the ones they’re avoiding so your little one gets comparable nutrients. Even if your toddler doesn’t touch the food, they’re at least getting exposure to it: a baby step toward eventually liking it (or at least tolerating it!).
Your toddler will go through stages of eating lots and eating very little. Offer healthy choices and have patience through the process. It may just be a matter of moving snack time earlier so your little one is hungry for dinner. You can always consult with your pediatrician if you’re concerned.
Do you have any tips for feeding toddlers? Have any of the above suggestions worked (or not worked) for you? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!
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Toddlerhood is full of intense emotion. One minute, your tot is having the time of their lives with (seemingly) nothing in the way of their pure joy. Seconds later, they’re on the ground screaming and pounding their fists as if the world is about to end. As toddler parents quickly learn, this is the new norm — and it is