As a parent, the toddler stage can be challenging for many reasons. While your child is finding their feet (quite literally) they’ll probably be more confident in expressing their likes and dislikes. Eating may be affected, and your toddler might be refusing to eat foods they once loved or showing less interest in mealtimes than they used to.

This is understandably frustrating, not to mention anxiety-inducing. After all, you might worry that your toddler’s not eating enough for the energy they need, and aren’t getting all the nutrients they require for growth and development. Take comfort, however, that it’s fairly common for toddlers to go through a picky eating stage. We’re here to help, with tips and advice on how to improve eating habits and make mealtimes more fun with your little one. 

Let your child help

Even toddlers enjoy discussing what to make for dinner. Encourage your child to join in with the meal decision-making, grocery-store trips and simple tasks in the kitchen, as all of this will help them to feel more involved.

Prepare your toddler for mealtimes

Let them know when it’s nearly time to sit down and eat. This will help them establish their own sense of routine, and they’ll also have time to wrap up any playing without feeling rushed.

Sit down together

Try to see eating together as an occasion where you can focus on bonding and sharing. Being together at the table gives you the opportunity to demonstrate to your little one that mealtimes can be sociable and funi.

Don’t drag mealtimes out

You know your child best, but most toddlers have limited attention spans so it helps to think realistically about how long yours will happily sit at the table. For example, if you notice they are happy for half an hour at the table but get a little cranky beyond that, don’t let mealtimes exceed this time length.

Turn the distractions off

From cell phones to TVs, try to keep mealtimes free from tech. As a parent, when you model healthy screen habits you’re more likely to encourage healthy routinesii

Respect your toddler’s appetiteiii

Children’s appetites will vary from day to day, and they’re typically quite good at judging how much they need to eat. If you’re worried that your child is not getting enough in terms of nutrients or energy, then consult your doctor.

Set a good example

As a parent, you will be the greatest influence on your toddler’s eating habits so try to set a good example by making healthy choices. Try to include a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables, proteins, whole grains, and make water your drink of choiceiv

Always offer a ‘favourite’ food

Your toddler may be a picky eater, but there’s always one or two foods that you know they’ll eat. To avoid the disappointment or frustration that comes from your toddler leaving the table with an empty tummy, make sure there’s always one healthy food they love on their plate.

Keep portions small

A large plate of food can be overwhelming for even the most unfussy toddler. Start with a little food on your child’s plate, and if they finish everything, you can always offer a second helping.

Introduce new foods regularly

Even if it’s a couple of bites of something new at every meal (breakfast is a good call, as your child is likely to be most hungry then), variety will keep things exciting. If you’re met with refusal, you’ve lost nothing. You can simply try another new food the next day!

Be wise about snack times

Offering snacks too close to main mealtimes will risk your child losing their appetite by the time they sit down to eat. Raw vegetables such as pepper, celery and cucumber sticks won’t fill your child up too much but can be offered as a finger food if your little one is getting impatient while waiting for lunch or dinner!

Reward your child

You could use a simple sticker chart to congratulate your toddler when they’ve tried something new or sat at the table for a meal without fussing. Avoid bribing or punishing your child at mealtimes, as this can cause them to resist food even more. It’s far better to use encouragement to help them form a healthier relationship with food.

Go easy on yourself

As a parent, it can be easy to feel like you’re failing if a mealtime hasn’t gone to plan. But try not dwell too much on what didn’t go right – just clear the table and move on. The next meal is always only a few hours away and gives you and your toddler the chance to wipe the slate clean and try again.

Stay patient

While you may be frustrated or disheartened that your toddler won’t eat the foods you put in front of them, try to understand that this is usually just a phase. With a little patience and some trial and error, your toddler’s behaviour around food should improve over time.

Of course, if you’re concerned that your child is not receiving the nutrients they needv or is losing weight, visit your doctor, and they’ll be able to share some dietary advice.

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