If you’ve got a toddler, chances are you’re already having mealtime battles.
‘No!’ and ‘Yuk, don’t want that!’ are probably ringing in your ears as you rescue lovingly prepared, nutritionally-balanced meals from the floor for the umpteenth time. Foods your child has been gleefully demolishing up to now suddenly seem to horrify them. You’re at your wit’s end and are imagining a life of Rice Krispies and rickets.
Don’t despair, it’s normal! Pretty much all toddlers go through a fussy stage, even if sometimes it seems like it’s going on forever. Sometimes, though, a few pointers to get those vital vegetables into them can help steer you and your family through one of the choppier areas of childhood.
Don’t make mealtimes a battleground.
Your little one will pick up on your stress and may even down tools as a result. After all, it doesn’t take much for a toddler to refuse all reasonable requests! Never force food on them, take a DEEP BREATH and try again. It takes time for kids to get used to new tastes and textures. On average a food needs to be offered 15 times before they’ll eat it. The one thing every expert agrees you need is PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE.
Have fun with food.
Toddlers can be easily fooled so play a few mind-games. Tell him you really want his carrots and see how fast he decides they’re ‘ALL MINE’. Eat your own veg while making delighted ‘yummy’ sounds. Try a counting game: how many peas can he make disappear? Into his mouth, obviously…
Toddlers have tiny tums.
You might think they’ve eaten nothing all day, but a boiled egg, a couple of crackers, some banana and a spoonful of carrots adds up. Sometimes little and often is better. If they can’t get through to dinner-time, chunks of nutrient-rich cheese, fruit or veg can keep them going without ruining little appetites. Note: little ones can’t cope with too much fibre, it fills them up so they can’t manage anything else. So don’t obsess about wholemeal everything; white pasta/rice is fine till later on.
Energy needs vary
Little appetites change daily depending on how active kids are or if they’re coming down with a cold. If they’re happily racing around, not losing weight and sleeping well, it’s unlikely they’re genuinely going hungry.
Kids love to help out
Involve kids in shopping and cooking.
Let them choose new and interesting fruit and veg in the supermarket and rope them into helping you in the kitchen. They’re more likely to eat when they’ve seen where their food has come from.
Toddlers are not always being awkward.
They have likes and dislikes just like us. Research has shown that children’s eating habits are mostly down to genetics and their own personality so don’t blame yourself. Do keep offering the offending food but after a while you might work out your little one has a natural affinity with veg rather than fruit or prefers cheese to eggs.
Personally, I’m a fully paid up member of the ‘coriander tastes like soap’ society and I’ll bet there are things you won’t touch.
My son has barely ever touched fruit but will wolf down bowls of broccoli with abandon (not a boast: bananas are much more convenient than leafy greens when you’re out and about).
Ignore unrealistic advice.
Don’t listen to judgy mums who swear their little darlings willingly scoff organic quinoa and kale bake and never drop so much as a lentil on the floor. Find what works for you, even if that means cheese sandwiches every day for a month.
If all else fails, play hide-the-veg. Check out recipes for hidden vegetable pasta sauces or use mash to disguise butternut squash, swede or sweet potato. Bolognese or shepherd’s pie are great hiding places for grated carrot and finely chopped pepper. Yes it’s sneaky, but so is your toddler and sometimes needs must! It might just save your sanity until the picky phase passes.
You’ve heard the old adage: ‘a child won’t starve themselves’. Well, it’s usually true. It’s amazing how often your child will SWEAR they’re not hungry for that lovingly-made shepherd’s pie but will then beg for biscuits and milk ten minutes later! If you’re genuinely worried about your child losing weight or not getting enough nutrition, please see your GP or Health Visitor. They’ve seen it a million times and can reassure you and offer safe advice.
So, don’t worry, keep calm and do carry on. Food rejection is not personal and is a normal part of toddler development. It WILL pass and one day you’ll realise you’re all sitting round the dinner table and eating the same food. Meanwhile, you’re building up good eating habits that will last a lifetime, or at least until they leave home and then all bets are off!
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