Toddler meal time – What’s working for us right now. Those last two words of the title are important. “Right now.” If I’ve learned anything in my measly three and a half years of parenting, its that nothing stays the same for long. The only constant, is change. I don’t have a degree in nutrition, or pediatrics, or even early childhood development. What I do have is a kiddo who used to eat nearly anything we gave her but now decides she hates foods on a whim. By the way, I hear this is normal. Normal doesn’t make it less stressful though.
One of the best pieces of parenting advice I’ve heard is to look at your circle of friends and how they parent their kids. If you don’t want to parent in the same way as a certain friend, don’t go to them for advice. Likewise, if your friend’s parenting style is what you aspire to be like, those are the folks to when things get challenging. With this in mind, I’ve been taking in meal time advice from dear friends as well as a variety of online resources.
What we were doing before our overhaul
We initially tried giving our daughter exactly what we were eating on most nights. Sometimes she would go for it but, more often than not, she would reject dinner. We would end up in a battle just trying to get her to eat one bite of peas (one of her favorites, by the way). There were tears, time outs and all three of us ended up exhausted. Other nights, we didn’t want to deal with tantrums so we would just let her have the cereal or mac & cheese she requested. I love cereal and mac & cheese too but I’d really rather provide her with a balanced diet than a bowl full of carbs. The only thing keeping me from feeling guilty is that her teachers consistently report she is the best eater in her class.
What we’re doing now
- Our first move was to change up our daughter’s plates. Yes, we were using colorful kids plates before but this still made a positive impact on her attitude. We now swap out between her usual plates and some colorful 4 or 6 cup cupcake pans.
- We put a different food in each cup – always at least one food that we know she’ll eat and the others might be familiar or might not. If we are giving her a new food, it is from whatever my husband and I are eating that night. We also occasionally put a small treat in one of the cups.
- We tell her she can eat what she wants and doesn’t have to eat what she doesn’t want. She can even eat the treat first if wants to. However, she is expected to have good manners and not complain or push anything off of her plate.
- We don’t ask her or tell her to try things. In other words, the “polite bite” has been eliminated. We talk about the color or shape of new foods but we don’t require a bite to see if she likes something. She sees us eating the foods we are serving and this approach seems to naturally spur her curiosity. Just the other night she initiated conversation about the shape and color of asparagus and she ended up eating the serving we had put on her plate. Win!!!
- We eat in different locations. Most of the time we are still eating at the dining room table. But we also eat quite a few meals on the back porch, the front porch, or even picnic style on the living room floor. Location typically depends on what we’re serving. In other words, we aren’t giving our toddler soup in the middle of the floor for fear of spilling.
- If my husband and I aren’t eating at the same time as our daughter, we still sit with her. We take turns reading books while she eats. She often ends up eating everything on her plate without even thinking about it simply because she’d so focused on the stories and doesn’t realize she’s eaten those peas!
Honestly, these changes have been beneficial for all of us. Variety keeps things fun and not having any rules about trying things has eliminated pressure and stress. We are having far fewer tantrums. She is also eating a more balanced diet. I’m realistic that this may not last forever but I will also say this has been the longest streak of meal time success we’ve had. You know your own kiddo better than anyone else does. Review the list of changes we’ve made and see if you think any of them might resonate with your family.
I’m including some links to products we use (or similar) as resources for you – just click on the images below for the links. Full disclosure, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.