1) Schedule meal and snack times.
I realize life happens and this isn't always possible, but for the most part, toddlers need a routine. They find comfort in knowing that you are regularly going to offer snacks and meals. According to Ellen Satter, there is a division of responsibility in feeding. The parent is responsible for the what, when , and where of eating. The child then, is responsible for how much, and whether or not they are going to eat. If they decide they aren't hungry for lunch, no big deal since you have a snack scheduled in 2 hours. The hardest part of that is making sure you don't give in when they come to you hungry for fruit loops when they didn't want what you originally offered.
2) Offer healthy choices and let the child decide.
Another difficult point in the division of responsibility is that, if the child is responsible for how much, the parent must take the what seriously. If the parent is offering ice cream for snack, the child should be less responsible for the how much than if the parent were offering grapes or a vegetable. Parents must take responsibility for healthy options. There should be no such thing as kid food. This eventually becomes adult food. "Do you want carrots or celery?" Either way, the parent is offering good foods that are equally nutrtious. The child then gets some control in deciding which one, but he does not feel overwhelmed with choosing from all possible items in the refrigerator.
3) "You don't have to eat it"
I recently read a really great article about making meal time less stressful. The truth is kid, you don't have to eat it. Why? Because, as a parent, I will give you another option for a snack in about 2 hours. So, no, you don't have to eat it, but you will have no other chances until snack time. Sometimes, they are hungry, but want some control as this is an age where they are testing parents a lot! By giving kids the choice, you are loosening the food control grip and most toddlers respond better when they are free to make up their own mind.
4) No grazing.
When toddlers are free to eat whenever and wherever they want, one of two things usually happens (generally, there are always exceptions):
- They are underweight because they end up carrying a handful of Cheerios around all day and eventually drop them all in the sofa.
- They are overweight because they choose high calorie junk foods like chips or cookies that are always more appealing than more nutritious option, and are definitely enticing even if they aren't hungry.
This can be really hard in the beginning if your toddler is used to nibbling all day, but if parents are consistent and patient, kids typically come around in a week or two (typically...).
5) No sugary drinks.
The main fuel source for the brain is sugar. Drinks such as soda, juice, and tea that are full of sugar (whether natural or not) often send a signal to the brain telling the brain it's satisfied. With toddlers, who are already more interested in playing than eating, once they feel full they are no longer interested in patiently sitting at the dinner table.
I know all of this is much easier said than done, but if you feel like snacks and meals have become super stressful at your home, you are struggling with weight (gain or loss) with your child, or your child keeps getting picker, these ideas can help!