Many parents report that eating behaviour during the toddler years is very problematic. Either children don’t eat enough or they eat too much. Both are serious problems for parents.
Nutritionists tell us that it is during toddler-hood that children learn to regulate their intake – eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full. This is an important life lesson. They also tell us that nutritional needs during toddler-hood change – the fast-paced growth of infancy slows as toddlers work on perfecting emerging skills. This change worries many parents. What should you do to make sure your toddler develops healthy, lifelong eating behaviours? Try some of these following strategies:
- Offer new foods, one at a time, and offer them several times in a row.
- Toddlers usually won’t try a new food until they are familiar with it and have the opportunity to see it on their plate.
- Sit with your toddler when he or she is eating meals or snacks; taste new foods; comment on how new foods taste.
- Make meals a shared family time. Turn off the television and enjoy eating with your child.
- Don’t pressure, avoid cajoling, enticing, bribing, or tricking children into eating. Let your child decide what to eat and how much. Accept your child’s choices.
- Toddlers need to control their own intake – a powerful experience with independence.
- Eat at regularly scheduled times; don’t offer snacks in between these times.
- Toddlers need to eat more frequently than adults, perhaps 5 or 6 times a day. Three meals and two snacks will help children get enough nutrients across the day.
- Give children choices of nutritious foods; avoid fats and sugars that will fill up your toddler without contributing to the child’s nutritional needs.
- If your toddler regularly avoids one type of food, such as vegetables or milk, introduce it in an interesting or different way. For example, if he or she isn’t drinking milk, substitute other foods high in calcium, such as yoghurt, cheese, or dried beans.
- Keep your cool.
- If you are frantic about eating behaviour, your toddler will feel like he or she has to continue the behaviour that is problematic. If you avoid making a fuss and allow the child to control his or her nutritional intake, your toddler will learn to listen to the cues from his or her body about when and how much to eat – avoiding over and under eating.