As toddlers begin to find their independence, a lot of parents find that mealtimes may start to become a little more difficult. Whilst this is understandably frustrating, fussy eating is a normal phase that toddlers go through as they develop from a baby into a child and it is important to remember that it will get easier with time!
As a parent, you obviously want the best for your little one, and that includes making sure that they are eating and drinking enough. If you are finding that you are going through a difficult phase with your toddler, try not to get anxious about mealtimes. If you’re able to maintain a calm and positive attitude towards mealtimes, then this will be much easier for both you and your toddler.
However, as challenging as mealtimes with your toddler maybe, this is a great time to start teaching them healthy eating habits. The patterns and food interests that your toddler develops now will likely be ones which they take with them into adulthood, so starting off on the right track is important.
Coping With Fussy Eating
Most toddlers tend to go through a phase of only eating a few choice foods and refusing the rest. This is largely due to something called food neophobia, which is a fear of trying new foods. Toddlers tend to experience this when they reach the age of two, but this is a phase and it will pass.
Your toddler will likely stick to eating what they know and will need time to learn that new and unfamiliar foods are enjoyable and ok to eat. Your little one will gain confidence in eating these foods by watching you and other people eating and enjoying foods which they are not so sure about. It might also help to ensure that your toddler is getting plenty of exercise, especially if they are going through a particularly fussy period. Running around and being active will help to create a larger appetite when it comes to mealtimes.
Take Cues From Your Toddler
As parents, you, of course, know best, but it is important to recognise that small children are able to recognise both when they are hungry and when they are feeling full. Some days, it might seem like your toddler doesn’t stop eating, whilst other days it might look as though they aren’t eating enough. This is completely normal and nothing to worry about.
Children who tend to be pushed to have “one more bite” soon learn to ignore their bodies’ natural signals, which can then lead to overeating and weight issues later on in life. You should continue to offer your toddler healthy meals and regular snacks, but if they decide not to eat it, then that’s ok – you can always offer something else later. If your child consistently doesn’t finish meals, you may need to reduce the portion size and let them ask for more if they are still hungry. Remember, if your toddler is still growing and developing, you can be confident that they are on track.
Make Mealtimes Fun
When you are a busy parent, you understandably don’t want to create more work for yourself with cleaning up, but when it comes to making sure that toddlers enjoy their meals and mealtimes in general, it’s best to make it fun and interesting for them. By letting them get messy and eat their food the way they want, then they will naturally be encouraged to try new things and eat more.
Cut foods up into fun shapes they recognise, use (naturally!) bright coloured foods, such as broccoli, oranges, strawberries and so on to grab their attention and introduce them to foods which are messy – such as pasta bolognese, curries and stews. There are some great tools available now that help with messy toddler mealtimes and reduce the clean up afterwards, such as coverall bibs, suction bowls and plates and spill-free cups.