I feel like I’m constantly reading “tips” articles or whole books, dedicated to helping me to navigate the hectic, tiring, hilarious and fulfilling job of parenting a toddler. One of the areas that I’ve needed a lot of coaching, is mealtime.
My daughter Harper is a bit of a comedian. When we’re running low on time, it always seems like that’s when she decides that she’s going to do nothing but joke around at the table. At first, I found it difficult to keep her focused, but I’ve developed some skills in the toddler mealtime department- so below are my top 5 tips for feeding a toddler.
1) Offer Choices. I had heard this one before- mainly just in reference to vegetables (and it amazingly, DOES really work for vegetables! See the original article I read on babble here). But when I say offer choices, I mean from meal planning “Harper, do you want waffles with blueberries today or bananas and cheerios?” “Do you want chicken and broccoli or soup (anything even remotely liquid-y is “soup” at this point) to sitting at the table deciding what to eat first (or even which piece of chicken to eat).
I’ve noticed that by actively engaging with her, and making the meal about her choices, she’s more likely to eat than goof around. Of course, not every meal plan is based on Harper’s decisions (I’m not a short-order cook!) and that’s ok- even when the choices are small (like which fork to use today), it works!
2) Allow them to experiment. Yes, as adults, we KNOW that broccoli dipped in ketchup MUST taste awful. But for a toddler who’s just learning about food, this combination seems perfectly reasonable, and potentially delicious. I had read somewhere that allowing your kids to be adventurous with their food early makes them more open to trying new things later- so when my daughter decided to dip her broccoli into her ketchup, I decided to let her go for it. To my surprise, she kept doing it… and finished her broccoli. So my new motto is, as long as its not dangerous- go ahead and try it!
3) Hold the milk. My daughter is obsessed with milk. I’m pretty sure she would drink a gallon a day if I let her, so its become increasingly important to only serve water with dinner. If I give her milk, she WILL drink it all before touching her food and she WILL request more because she’s used to having a beverage with her meal. Offering water allows her to focus on the food while still having something to wash down her ketchup-covered broccoli with.
4) Make Healthy Foods fun. We’ve embraced the smoothie bandwagon at our house. We’ve worked everything from kale to soy milk, to blueberries to spinach into our smoothies, and refer to them as ‘milkshakes’. Harper loves them.
Are we lying to her? No. There’s milk in there (soy milk). So they’re sort of “milkshakes”. But the point is, she’s enjoying a treat and we know that she’s getting the vitamins she needs. Its a win-win.
Along the same lines, but another great discovery: it really does help to refer to broccoli as “trees” and play a game where your kiddo pretends to be a dinosaur eating the “trees”. Whoever came up with that is brilliant!
5) The classics are still good. Does every meal time need to be well thought-out and restaurant-quality? No. Don’t put pressure on yourself to win Top Chef at every meal. Sometimes, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich really is the perfect lunch. And sometimes, grilled cheese and chicken soup is just what the doctor ordered. In my opinion, these old standards are necessities in the mealtime rotation- both for my sanity, as well as in the name of being a kid!
Got anything to add? What makes mealtimes work in your house? Do you have any great toddler-friendly recipes to share?