Mealtime is a big deal in our house. Well, at least for my toddler. If he isn’t fed at 8 a.m., noon, and 5 p.m. on the dot, his world comes to an end. I’m not quite sure how such a tiny human can have this much emotion about food, but mine does. And every meal brings a new adventure in parenting. Will he finger paint with his ketchup? Will he feed his chicken nuggets to the dog? Is it a pancake or a waffle morning? Will he wear a milk mustache, or a yogurt beard? Or will he eat all of his food, even using his utensils, and then ask for seconds?
On this particular evening, it’s 5:26 p.m., post-daycare, and he’s already pretty angry that his dinner is late. Mind you, he’s just about two years old. Tonight I decided to get creative and make him breakfast quesadillas (so easy, just a one-egg omelet sandwiched between a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and flour tortillas on either side) with a side of mild salsa, a sippy cup of whole milk, and a veggie pouch to sneak in some extra greens. At this point I’m more excited about his meal than he is, and I proudly set it down on his high chair and exclaim, “It’s dinnertime, baby!”
He stares at his plate, then back at me. He sticks his finger in the salsa and swirls it around a bit, then looks at me with a half laugh, half smile. Next, he takes his whole hand and slaps the salsa, sending pieces of tomato all over the kitchen. He completely ignores the quesadillas and doesn’t even look at his veggie pouch. I already know what direction this meal is going in.
Fortunately, before I can feel completely defeated, I collect my cool and remember the following tips and tricks I’ve picked up during my tenure as a first-time mommy. Some ideas are from a toddler nutrition class I took when my son first started eating solid foods, others are from friends, and most I just learned along the way.
Eat with him. Like many adults I know, my toddler doesn’t like to eat alone. He prefers eating together, and I don’t blame him. He almost always eats better when we sit down at the table as a family. Some days this isn’t always possible (like pretty much every breakfast as we’re all scrambling to get out the door for work and daycare), but we make a point to at least time our dinners so that we can all eat together. Bonus points if everyone is eating the same food!
Be creative. Offer a healthy selection and variety of food. We try not to overload his plate with too many carbs or similar colors. In fact, don’t overload his plate, period! Smaller portions fare better with toddlers, and it’s good practice to start with less and let them ask for more. It also saves you the headache of throwing out good food that becomes inedible after taking a dunk in applesauce (or salsa). To get creative, serve food in different ways. For example, tonight my toddler wouldn’t eat his quesadilla in little triangles. Instead, I cut it up into smaller pieces and gave him a fork so he could stab it and dip it in his salsa. Winning!
Be patient. Staying positive is key when training our mini-mes to become good, healthy, confident eaters. Never associate mealtime with negative feelings, forcing your child to eat, or punishment. Even when I’m the one who wants to flip his plate upside down during a mealtime tantrum, I do my best to stay on point and gently coax him to “eat up, it’s yummy!” If he isn’t hungry, he isn’t hungry. It’s not the end of the world!
Listen to and look for his cues. Some days they’ll eat everything in sight, other days they won’t take a bite. The child nutrition class I attended explained that this is normal and expected. At this young age, the whole of what a toddler eats in a week is more important than what a toddler eats in a day. You know your child best, so watch his or her cues for when they’re telling you they are hungry or full. This is the ultimate mealtime tantrum saver.
Don’t give up. Don’t let one meal, several meals, or even a week’s worth of disappointing toddler meal times get you down. Toddlers can be fussy, fickle and are really just trying to figure this whole “eating” thing out. Keep trying new foods, keep your cool, and stay positive. Soon your little one will be tantrum-free and enjoying new foods and the wonderful family time that happens around the table!