10 Tips for Mealtimes with Tricky Toddlers

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Mealtimes can be tough, especially when you are dealing with toddler tantrums and picky eating. So what’s a busy mom to do? 

It’s important to tread carefully when tackling feeding issues with little ones. The environment you create and the habits you set now can make or break the way they interact with food in the future. Let’s offer a healthy example and set them up for success.

Here are 10 tips for mealtimes with tricky toddlers. 

1. Routine, routine, routine

Sticking to a routine for meals and snacks is important. If your little one isn’t hungry during dinner, bedtime snack is there without fail to ensure they don’t go to bed with an empty belly. Having the security of knowing there will be meals and snacks offered at set times takes the pressure off your child to eat every single bite. 

2. Small portions for small bellies

It’s important to remember that a toddler’s stomach is much smaller than yours. A healthy portion for a young child is much smaller than a healthy portion for an adult. Start off with a tablespoon size serving of each food offered. This ensures your child isn’t overwhelmed with a huge plate of food that they aren’t sure about. It also makes for less food waste. If they eat what is there and are still hungry, great! Offer more! If not, that’s OK too!

3. Include little ones in the planning, shopping, and prep

Kids want to be included. So let them. Let them help you plan the meals. Bring them to the market to pick out the freshest produce. Involve them in preparing the meal for the family. Your little sous chef is much more likely to eat what’s in front of them if they had a hand in making it. Plus, getting them involved offers so many hands-on lessons in science, math, nutrition, and more!

4. Don’t be a short-order cook

You don’t have to go crazy each night preparing a different meal for each member of the family. Make one meal, but be sure to include something you know your child likes. Even if they refuse to try anything else, they have at least one safe food. Provide healthy, well-rounded meals and a safe setting to try new foods and let them take the lead. 

5. Be the change you want to see

If we want our kids to eat a healthy and varied diet, it’s important to make sure we are setting the example. We can’t refuse all things green and expect them to devour their vegetables without complaint night after night. Kids will model the behavior in front of them. Be an adventurous eater and they will too.

6. Prioritize family mealtimes

There’s something to be said for gathering the entire family around the table for good food and conversation. Family mealtimes are a great place to set healthy examples by eating a variety of foods and trying new things. Plus, that family togetherness each night is so important for building strong relationships with one another. 

7. Mix up the menu

It’s easy to get into a food rut and serve the same few things for breakfast, lunch, and dinner each week. But when we do that, kids start to expect those things and when we vary from the norm it freaks them out. Change up the menu and offer something new each day and they’ll become accustomed to the variety. Plus, it staves off boredom. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single day, but it’s nice to change it up and not have the same thing all the time.

A great way to do this is to have theme nights. Meatless Monday, Taco Tuesday, and so on. Then you have a structure for planning your meals each week, but have lots of wiggle room within that framework to keep it varied. 

8. Plate it up pretty

When dealing with wary toddlers, presentation is key. Make it fun. Broccoli becomes trees that they can dip in ranch dressing. Dress up celery by adding peanut butter and raisins and all of a sudden it’s “ants on a log”. We are visual creatures. When something looks good, we are more likely to give it a shot. Toddlers are no different.

9. Pack a picnic

Sometimes, you just need a change of scenery. Once in a while, break free from the routine and take dinner to the park. Enjoying a meal outside is a great way to get toddlers having fun and in the mindset to try something new.

10. Choose your battles

Is this really the hill you want to die on? Your voice….the voice your kids hear day in and day out….they will internalize that and it will become their inner voice. If you make every meal miserable and go to war over every bite, you are setting them up to have negative associations with food as they get older. Food doesn’t need to be a battle. They will eat when they are hungry. Keep mealtimes positive, set a good example by eating healthy foods yourself, and they will come around.

For ongoing issues, please consult the opinion of a medical professional. 

When in doubt, contact your child’s doctor. If you are seeing things that go beyond typical picky eating….inability to gain weight, signs of sensory sensitivities, etc…. it’s worth seeking help from a qualified medical professional. 

If you found this helpful, please be sure to share with other parents of toddlers on your favorite social media channels! 

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