Solving food issues with your toddler in the second year
It can be a challenge trying to get a strong-willed toddler to eat a balanced diet - or sometimes even at all. Food issues at this age are fairly common, so if they happen, it's often a pretty isolated incident, and not a sign of more issues to come. In the meantime, there are things you can do to reduce the chance of a mealtime struggle between you and your baby.
Here are some things to consider if you start to notice some mealtime rebellion coming from your baby's end of the table.
It might be a control issue.
Between the ages of one and two, young children start to be able to do more things for themselves, and to enjoy doing things on their own. Being told to do something may feel a little constricting for a toddler who would rather decide for herself whether to eat her green beans or throw them on the floor. It's best if parents can try to avoid making their toddler feel powerless, or pressured.
- What to try: Keep offering a variety of food. This may mean setting different foods on different plates or bowls and letting your baby pick and choose what she wants to eat. It's not the end of the world if she leaves a few delicacies untouched over dinner - there's always lunch tomorrow to reintroduce them as leftovers. If watching your toddler decide whether or not to sample something causes you stress, you can disengage from the 'battle' by focusing your attention elsewhere, or talking to your baby about something else during mealtime.
your baby might need to be more involved in mealtime.
Perhaps your toddler's pickiness comes from a place of detachment from the meal-prep process. It's possible that if your baby can participate a little bit more, she will feel more inclined to eat.
- What to try: Assign your baby a safe, toddler-friendly job to do while you prepare another part of the meal. Some examples could be stirring, layering, or dropping ingredients into a bowl, using cookie cutters to make shapes, or gathering ingredients (as long as they're within reach!) from a shelf.
- Also try this: It can also be fun to go a step further and include your baby earlier in the process, allowing her to pick out foods at the grocery store and help you weigh them or put them on the conveyor belt when it's time to pay. If you live somewhere with a yard or garden, you can even include her in the process of growing one or two of the vegetables, if you're feeling ambitious.
The food you're serving might take some getting used to.
Toddlers are notorious for their resistance to change. Some food power struggles come from a place of the toddler needing some time to adjust to new types of food.
- What to try: Keep serving your baby new foods in small portions. Large portions all at once can feel intimidating to toddlers, especially when new foods are involved. Encourage (but don't bribe) her to try a little bit. Make sure you're practicing what you preach, too; your baby will be more likely to try something if she sees you happily munching on it.
your baby just might not be that hungry!
Toddlers are pretty good about regulating their own appetites. They aren't always hungry at every meal of the day. Many parents find that their toddler is hungry at breakfast and lunch, but totally disinterested in food come dinnertime.
- What to try: Know that your baby won't get too hungry before she starts to eat. Keep offering small servings of food, and let your baby sit at the table even if she doesn't want to eat. Mealtime can be a great time to connect, even if not everyone at the table is eating a hearty meal.
Final thoughts: things not to do
There are a few different reasons why mealtime power struggles occur, and each has its own solution. On the opposite end of this spectrum, however, there are some strategies that don't tend to work as well with reluctant-eater toddlers. First, don't become your toddler's short-order cook. As the parent, you're allowed to decide what does and doesn't put on the table. Second, don't force or bribe your baby to eat certain foods. In the long run, this doesn't teach your baby how to eat according to her internal hunger cues.
Finally, a little coddling now and then isn't going to hurt, but by this age, most toddlers are ready to feed themselves most of the time, and they'll only get better and more comfortable self-feeding them more often they have the chance to practice, even if they're not that excited about the chance to take the reins and feed themselves. If their toddler is ready to feed themselves, it's time to encourage (and celebrate!) these newly-acquired skills.
- "How Children Learn to Like New Food." EllynSatterInstitute. Ellyn Satter, 2016. http://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/htf/howchildrenlearntolikenewfood.php. Accessed 5/10/2017.
- "Toddlers at the Table: Avoiding Power Struggles." KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, 2014. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/toddler-meals.html. Accessed 5/10/2017.
- Alyssa Tucci, RDN. "How Bribing Your Kid to Eat Can Backfire." SuperKidsNutrition. SuperKids Nutrition Inc, 2017. http://www.superkidsnutrition.com/how-bribing-your-child-to-eat-can-backfire/. Accessed 5/10/2017.
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