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Stress-Free Toddler Feeding: 6 Tips for Healthier Home Mealtimes

Your dinner table at home is no war zone, but if you have a toddler (or two) to feed, it could very well feel like it is.

You may find yourself emerging from the “battlefield” with gobs of pureed vegetables dribbling down your clothes and pieces of fruit stuck to your hair — the aftermath of your child’s mealtime, where a lovingly prepared meal from a recent grocery delivery or shopping trip was presented just moments ago.

Serving delicious and nutritious food is a top priority for parents, but actually getting the little one to eat it is an entirely different hurdle. Because there are so many new flavours and textures being introduced (not all of which your child will immediately or even eventually like), and because your child is still learning how to eat, every mealtime can bring forth utter chaos.

Taking the Battle out of Mealtimes

Mealtimes can be stressful for parents because they have all kinds of concerns regarding their child and food.

Primarily, mums and dads wonder whether their little one is meeting all the child nutritional requirements for proper growth and development. They could also be worried about their child gaining or losing weight. And often, they may feel they are doing something wrong whenever their child refuses to try something new or to finish their plate.

The good news is that feeding your toddler doesn’t have to be a constant or losing struggle. By trying simple tips to turn mealtimes into positive experiences, you can make these moments less stressful for both you and your toddler — and you’ll be making sure that the little one gets the nutrition he needs, too.

Here are six easy techniques to consider.

1. Take Cues From Your Toddler

As a parent, you know that you need to feed your kid at certain times of the day. Your child, on the other hand, won’t learn that right away — being busy with moving around and exploring his environment, he’ll often only want to eat when he feels the hunger pangs coming in.

You can set regular mealtimes, but pay close attention to the times when your child eats little and the times when he tends to feel hungrier and eat more. This way, you can fill his plate accordingly and introduce new foods along with his favourite ones; there’ll be a higher chance that he will eat more of the nutritious items at these times.

2. Introduce New Foods, but Don’t Force Your Child to Eat Them

You might be tempted to make a big deal out of adding a new fruit, vegetable or protein to your toddler’s plate so that he can be sure to know what he’s getting, but hold that thought. Pointing out the new item on your toddler’s plate is the fastest way to make him suspicious of it, so it’s best to play it cool.

The trick is to mix the new food in with your kid’s favourite and more familiar food — say, a spear of asparagus along with his mashed sweet potatoes — and to serve them as you usually would. He may not try it at all, but don’t give up — nutrition experts say that toddlers are more likely to try a new food after being exposed to it around 10 times.

Simply encourage him to give the food a try, and if he leaves it untouched, make no fuss about it and try again next time.

3. Be Prepared for Every Mealtime

Think about what makes meals so stressful for you. Is it the need to grab more food from the kitchen whenever your child spills his? Does your child always complain about there being something wrong with his food?

It helps to prepare for every meal like you would when planning a trip out of the house. Get everything you could possibly need together onto a tray or caddy and place it right by the dinner table — bibs or baby wipes, extra bowls and utensils, a knife for cutting food into smaller pieces, the pitcher of milk or juice or an extra serving of food (all of which are available in the Spinneys products catalogue and those of similar large-chain grocery stores).

That way, you won’t have to keep getting up from the table since everything you need is right there.

4. Avoid Giving Rewards, Prizes or Bribes

Your child is sure to refuse certain foods, but don’t fall into the habit of offering something else — especially a food or beverage that he prefers. Try not to reward him with a treat whenever he eats something he doesn’t like. Your child will learn that this is the easiest way to get the food he likes.

Give him time to get to know the flavours and learn to like them on his own so he will eat them without thinking about getting something in return.

5. Try Creative Ways to Sneak in Nutrition

Since you’ll be learning to accept that some foods simply do not find their way into your child’s tummy, you can try a different approach to introducing nutrients to your little one. If he likes popsicles, you can make a batch with toddler milk formula mixed in, for example.

Or, if he loves spaghetti, you can mince carrots and bell peppers very finely and mix them into the pasta sauce. This way, he can enjoy his favourite treats while also getting crucial nutrients.

6. Make Every Meal an Opportunity To Bond

Finally, let your toddler see that the whole family gathers at the dinner table every time to share a meal. When everyone makes time to sit down and eat, talk, and laugh together, your little one will look forward to this happy, positive part of the day.

Give these six ideas a try during the next few days and enjoy the time your whole family spends bonding over a meal at the dinner table.