When it comes to getting toddlers to eat their dinner, some meals can be hit or miss. It’s normal for toddlers to be a bit fussy with foods while they figure out what they like (and figure out they can say ‘no’). Here are a few tips to help you make the most of mealtimes with your toddler.
One good approach is the ‘one bite’ rule. Make sure your toddler is open to trying new things, but sometimes they truly won’t like a certain food. Letting them try a new ingredient with just one bite may be more tolerable for their growing taste buds.
When it comes to vegetables, you’ll likely want to be a bit more insistent so that your toddler gets their daily intake. Try disguising veggies by blending or finely chopping them into pasta sauce or soups.
Encourage family fun
Mealtimes are the perfect chance to bond as a family. Try to get everyone involved in preparing the family meal, whether that’s just you and your toddler, or you’ve got some more helping hands. If you have a bigger family, try switching up who cooks together each night.
Sitting around the dinner table is an excellent chance to catch up as a family. If you’ve got a toddler, it’s likely you already know what they did that day. Dinner time is a great chance to ask them how they feel reflecting on the day or to fill in your co-carer if they weren’t around today. Try starting a habit where everyone says one thing they’ve learned or are grateful for. Establishing dinner time as a routine and associating it with connecting as a family may help your toddler look forward to sitting down for the family meal.
Involve your toddler in the kitchen
Ask your toddler for help in the kitchen – even if it’s passing you a tea towel or getting ingredients from the fridge. Feeling involved in the cooking process may help them appreciate the meal and take pride in eating it. Setting the table is another excellent way for your toddler to feel involved – if they can reach the table to set it, that is! Perhaps this is something to introduce as they grow up.
Preparation time is also the perfect chance to speak to your little one about nutrition and why you’re eating what you’re eating. You can make this fun and fantastical if it helps. For example, try talking about broccoli as ‘magic trees that make us strong’.
Shapes and colors are fun! Talk to your little one about the importance of ‘eating the rainbow’. You could ask them to list healthy foods of every color and try to use those foods at dinner that night. Bring your toddler to the supermarket and ask them to help pick out ingredients.
Praise your toddler when they show an interest in food. Congratulating them for choosing ingredients, or for finishing everything on their plate can help build a positive association with prepping, cooking, and eating food. Mealtime might be messy with a toddler. Steel yourself for this and let your toddler make a little bit of mess if it helps them get food to the mouth.
Presenting food in fun ways can get your toddler excited to eat it. Try cutting vegetables into hearts or stars, or other fun shapes. Lay the food on the plate in a smiley face, or make a scene using vegetables as trees and plants, and use animal-shaped food such as dinosaur nuggets or sandwiches cut into circles like a snowman. Get creative in whatever way works for you!
Mealtime with young children can feel chaotic at times. Remember to take deep breaths and eat your own food too! Find what works for you and your family. Your little one won’t be a toddler forever, so try and savor all those precious mealtime memories.