March is nutrition month. This years theme is “take the fight out of food”. Is dinner time a struggle? Are you constantly asking and/or coaxing your toddler to eat their dinner. You are not alone. Being a mom of two girls, I am feeling your pain when it comes to feeding your family. Trust me, I have gone through some difficult stages feeding my girls. My strong willed three year old is currently going through the “yucky” stage before she has even tried her dinner. I remind myself that this stage is normal and it will pass. Between the ages 2-3 years, toddlers growth and appetite slows down. It is totally normal for them to resist food and eat very little food at times. If your child is growing well there is no need to worry. Patience and being a good role model will make dinner time a more enjoyable experience for everyone. Check out our five tips to create healthy and adventurous eaters.
Understand your role and your child’s role:
One of the most important tips I tell parents is understanding the role of the parent and the role of the child. Young kids thrive on healthy structure. As the parent, it is your role to decide what is being served, when it is being served and where it’s being served. Serve your child three meals and two snacks around the same time most days. On the other hand, it is your child’s role to decide whether they are going to eat and how much they are going to eat. The division of responsibility is the cornerstone of feeding expert Ellyn Satter. This may take some time getting used to but it helps kids learn to pay attention to their bodies and hunger cues. Remember, don’t give in if they don’t eat their dinner and request something later at bedtime.
Refrain from name calling:
No one likes to be called names or talked about negatively. I encouraged parents to refrain from calling their kids “picky eaters” . It is totally normal for toddlers around the ages 2-3 to exert their independence and to decide they don’t want to eat certain foods even thought they loved that food last week. Remember the division of responsibility.
Be a good role model:
In the first five years of life parents play the most important role in shaping their child’s food preferences and eating habits. When kids see their parents eating and enjoying variety of healthy foods on a regular basis, kids see this as a “normal” way of eating and helps with acceptance. I aim to try a new recipe every week but I also make sure the meal includes something my girls enjoy as well. It can take up to 20 repeated exposures before your child accepts a new food.
Get them involved:
Research shows that by encouraging kids to get involved in their food increases their palate. The kitchen will be a bit messier and it will take longer to get dinner on the table but trust me the benefits are worth the headache. My girls are always eager to roll up their sleeves and help out in the kitchen. Your child is more likely to try food that he/she has helped prepare. Their are numerous ways to get your kids involved such as mixing the salad dressing, planting a garden, taking them to the farmer’s market.
Avoid sneaking vegetables into food:
I hear this all the time. Just sneak it in, they will never know. This might work for a little while but it will back fire. Remember, we want to teach kids to like eating healthy foods. If you sneak kale or beets into smoothies they will catch on fast and there is a good chance they will reject them. Instead, be honest with your kids and show them that you add spinach or kale to smoothies, better yet have them add the spinach.
Do you have any tips to make meal times more enjoyable? I would love to hear them.