It’s dinnertime! You just spent an hour or more preparing a delicious dinner, all while small changes to make it more toddler appropriate. You made sure all of the ingredients were cut into small, bite-sized pieces. And you toned it back on the pepper and other spicy ingredients. Your toddler has a healthy and balanced meal for dinner and you’re confident that they are going to enjoy it.
However, when you set his or her plate down in front of them, they wrinkle their face and want nothing to do with it. They don’t even want to touch it – much less take a bite of it. In hopes that they will change their mind and that you won’t make matters worse by encouraging them to eat it, you walk away so they can inspect it on their own. Two seconds later, the plate goes flying and the delicious dinner you just prepared, specifically for them, is all over the floor.
This can be infuriating! What are you supposed to do now? Feed them your go to peanut butter and jelly sandwich and throw in the towel? Be as it may, sometimes that might just be the right thing to do. Fortunately, here are six tips that will make meal time easier.
1. Always introduce new foods along with familiar foods.
Take the pressure off yourself and your little one. By including foods your toddler already loves, you can be confident that your toddler will eat something off of his or her plate. It can be very frustrating to be in the situation explained above. This method will help you to feel confident that your toddler won’t be going to bed hungry. And therefore you won’t have to try to bribe them into eating something they’re unsure of. When the pressure is off, your toddler will be more likely to give it a try.
2. Don’t force it.
By all means, encourage your toddler to try new foods. Ask them to give it a taste, or ask them if they like the food. This way, it is their choice and they can make an unbiased opinion of the food on their own. Forcing your toddler to try something will almost always result in them never wanting the meal again. It will almost always make matters worse, and all meals will become a battle for both of you.
3. Offer healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks between meals.
Many toddlers refuse to eat their vegetables at meal time, and many parents start to worry if they aren’t getting enough nutritious foods because of it. One way to make sure they eat more nutritious foods is to offer them as snacks in between meals. Oftentimes when a fruit or vegetable are the only items offered, you will find your toddler really enjoys them! Cut out the goldfish, and instead offer him or her cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and some of their favorite fruits.
4. Teach your toddler sign language.
Two of the best signs for meal time are “finished”, and “more.” The word “finished” is signed by holding two hands up with the palms facing you and then turning them outward. “More” is signed by putting all of your fingers together, and making your hands kind of kiss. This can be super helpful in keeping food from flying because your toddler doesn’t want more of it, and knowing that your little one is still hungry for more. These are easy signs to teach them. All you have to do is show them each time you take their plate or give them more food. Your toddler is so much smarter than you might expect him or her to be!
5. Sit down and eat with them!
Toddlers are more likely to give something a try when they see someone else enjoying it. Sit down with your toddler at meal times and eat some of the same food they are eating. Besides being helpful in convincing them to eat their food, it also teaches them table manners. Have them sit in their chair while they eat, and until you are done eating as well. This will help when you’re out at dinner in a restaurant. Your toddler will learn that they must stay in their chair until everyone else is finished.
6. Don’t give up!
If your toddler refuses to eat a meal you’ve prepared the first time, it doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t like it later. Some toddlers have texture issues that they will eventually overcome, and others just might not be in the mood for what is being offered. That’s okay. Give it another try and you’ll be surprised how many times kids will like it the second or third time it’s offered.
Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and try to be more patient with your little guy or girl. I know how tough meal times can truly be but the more calm and collected you are, the better behaved they will be. Stay consistent, smile through the messes, and take each moment in stride as your toddler learns how to properly behave at mealtime. Try out a few of these tips, and feel free to share how it goes in the comments below.