A few days ago I was sitting in a local café watching a mum do battle with her toddler over lunch.
We’ve all been there.
We know just how stressful mealtimes can be and how easily food battles can escalate into full-blown wars. She wanted him to eat, but he wasn’t having any of it. He refused to sit still and the food was going everywhere except into his mouth.
It quickly became a power struggle between mum and son. I could see that in this battle of wills, the toddler was odds-on favourite to win. If this happens to you, try not to take it personally.
There are lots of reasons why your little one may not be as enthusiastic about his pasta as you are. Toddlers can be very picky eaters. It’s normal for toddlers to have unpredictable eating habits. They will be inconsistent, eating well one day and then only a small amount the next. He may love carrots on Monday and hate them on Tuesday. He may want to do everything himself today but expect you to do it all for him tomorrow. Toddlers are as changeable as the weather.
Toddlers also find it almost impossible to sit still. They wriggle around. It’s the way they’re made. They have an attention span of just 3 or 4 minutes. A toddler’s lifestyle lends itself to snacking, not sitting down and eating. Sitting takes work. Our little pioneers want to be up and exploring. On top of that, what your toddler eats (or not) is one of the few things he can control.
This toddler was making the most of this by making demands designed to show who was boss. I could see this was going to get very messy. But then a friend showed up and her daughter clearly enjoyed her food. Within minutes both little children were tucking in. So if you have a reluctant eater, a good first step is to invite a toddler who likes eating to come to tea.
Help your toddler develop healthy eating habits with these easy 10 practical tips:
- Get them involved in the preparation, e.g. cutting up bananas or cheese. Let them arrange the food on the plate – think smiley face with carrot or spaghetti hair.
- Serve small plates of food that they can finish. Cut food up into manageable bite size pieces.
- Catch them ‘red-handed’ eating well instead of drawing attention to the food they are not eating.
- Be relaxed about table manners. It’s normal for a toddler to use their hands. Knives and forks are tricky – remember the first time you tried to eat spaghetti.
- The harder you try to make your toddler eat, the more determined they will be not to. Don’t force them. A toddler will soon learn that if they don’t eat, they will be hungry.
- If your toddler does not like a variety of foods, it is safe to give them a repetitive diet as long as it’s nutritionally adequate.
- Avoid asking questions with a yes or no answer. Give choices, for example, “Would you like orange carrot or red pepper?”
- Avoid ultimatums and use ‘when’ and ‘then’. For example, “When you’ve finished your banana – then we can play on the swing.”
- Be a great role model. Your toddler will learn from you, so whenever possible eat with them.
- Toddlers take time to eat, so let them have enough time to eat comfortably. Make meals a priority and don’t rush them. They’re an important family event.
Keep trying different tastes - some foods take a lot of getting used to. If you are at all concerned about what your toddler is or isn’t eating or have any concerns about allergies, always talk to your doctor.
Lorraine Thomas is on the Toddle About Panel of Experts. She is the Chief Executive of The Parent Coaching Academy and author of ‘Brilliantly Behaved Toddler’. She runs workshops for working parents with clients including Marks & Spencer, Morgan Stanley, Novartis and Barclays. She is used as a parenting expert by Tesco.