Sunday, November 01, 2009

Getting Your Toddler to Eat: Tips for Success

Posted by Mandy at 2:19 PM
Have you ever gone to out to eat and just taken a second to sit back and look around? Often times I notice parents obviously feeling frazzled with their children, especially the ones in those toddler years. Now, most of us probably feel gray hairs coming on when our kids are acting crazy and all eyes are on us to "do something with that kid." But, have you ever felt that way simply because you cannot get your kid to eat? What about at your own kitchen table within the safety of your own home, where judging eyes cannot see? Umm.. yes.. I have!

I often think back and shake my head at myself and feel so sorry for my poor first child. First borns truly are mini experiments for their parents.

"Does she mind when I do this?"
"How do I make her stop screaming?"
"How do I make her sleep"
"Why is she so picky all of a sudden?!"

I recall feeling really upset when she'd stubbornly turn her nose up at new foods, as if her refusal to eat was purely out of rebellion. Who did she think she was trying to develop her own taste?

Today, I'm on my third two year old and am so thankful that he basically cannot pull anything new. Whether it's with tantrums, not minding, or picky eating... I've seen it before. I don't always know how to handle things, but one thing I do feel I've gotten a pretty good grip on is picky eaters, and how to work through those toddler-stubborn phases.

Here are just a few tips that I've learned along the way that I'd love to pass to anyone that hasn't had as many opportunities to learn from their own parenting trials and errors.

Tip #1 - Don't Expect Your 2-Year Old to Eat Like They Did at Age 1

At age 1, most toddlers are super excited about a new world of food. They want to taste and eat everything! If it's on your plate, it's soon to be in their mouth. Often times an eager to eat one-year-old morphs into a two-year-old that seems to require but a handful of food each day to survive. This happens to a ton of toddlers, so don't freak out too much. It's highly unlikely that any toddler will willingly starve themselves - so relax.

Tip #2 - You Can't Win This Battle

There are but two things in life a toddler has ultimate control over: What goes in, and what comes out. Learn this lesson as early as possible and I swear parenting a toddler will be soooo much easier.

Who else has tried to basically force feed a tyke with a spoon-full of "something" as they turn their head away and refuse to even take one taste? Who else has heard themselves say things like,

"Just one bite! It's so good!"
"You HAVE to eat this!"
"Fine, you can just sit here until you eat!"

Fun times at the dinner table, right?

The reason this is so frustrating for parents is often times because they've not yet realized that this battle is not worth fighting. You really cannot make them eat if they don't want to. Really.. you can't. Promise.

Tip #3 - It Isn't Worth Winning

If you do succeed in fighting your toddler to eat and use "scare tactics" like punishment for not eating, this may mean you are able to win this particular battle of the wills, but the war that might follow down the road is not worth it. Children do need to have some control over their own lives. There is no more basic control than deciding what you will or will not eat. Kids forced to eat often grow up to have serious food issues - either they decide to not eat and develop eating disorders (as a means of control) or they have no idea when to stop eating and they suffer with weight management issues. If toddlers learn early how to regulate their own appeties, it is a priceless skill they carry into adulthood.

Tip #3 - You Really ARE in Control

Don't let their scowling faces and fits at the table fool you. You really do have all of the control over what your toddler eats. Who buys the food? Who prepares the food? Who puts the food onto a plate to be eaten? The person in charge - that's who! Put that little tidbit into your parenting toolbox for safe keeping.

Tip #4 - Use Your Control Well

Often I hear parents complain that their kids only like 2 foods, or one food, and they just will NOT eat anything else. Really? Are you certain?

When you realize that this is a battle of the wills, and that you cannot force them to eat, but, that you do have all of the actual control over their food... you are on your way to victory!

Kids that truly will only eat one or two foods typically do so because somewhere down the line, that idea was encouraged. Once a toddler begins tantruming over new foods and wanting just the "Oldies and Goodies," a lot of parents become overwhelmed with the rejection of other eats and feed them their favorites out of fear. They simply don't want their child to go hungry!

My friends... rest easy. As harsh as it may sound, sometimes going hungry is just the answer. For a seriously picky eater - many parenting experts (as in those that have actual trails of letters behind their names proving their worth to us floundering souls) suggest simply putting a plate of food out, and then taking it away.

Can I say.. this actually does work! I heard this amazingly simple technique when my first was a toddler and have used it since. At first it seemed much too easy.

"No time-outs for not eating? No scolding? No forcing? What?!"

I would place food on her plate, we'd sit at the table, she'd say she didn't want it, I'd eat and encourage her to do so, she'd refuse. "Here we go..." I began warning her, "If you don't eat now, we won't eat again until snack time. If you don't want to eat, that's okay! But, Mommy isn't going to fix you anything else until snack time." She chose not to eat the first time. I followed through, picked up her plate after meal-time, and refused to fix her anything until snack-time. Oh the guilt!!

"Mommmmeee! I'm hun-geee!" Oh the fits... oh the tears. I felt like I was abusing her! I admit to scooting up snack-time almost an hour... thankfully she didn't know how to tell time to call my bluff. I prepared the snack I wanted her to eat and sat it in front of her. She ate it... all of it. That small tug of hunger pains was all it took! We kept this same plan for about two weeks, and before I knew it, she would try almost anything! I've done the same method for all of our kids. You eat, or you don't, that's up to you. However, if you don't, then you really don't eat.

I will say that I do try to make sure to make something I KNOW the kids enjoy at each meal, especially if I'm making something I think might make their noses go north. Because I don't have true "picky eaters," I've also been known to let them have a little something to snack on after supper if they happily tasted of all of the food and at least gave it a good effort. I mean, I don't like ALL foods... why should I expect them to?

Tip #5 - Remember Their Age

If you child is just two, then keep that in mind. Don't expect your two year old to be as willing to try new foods as a child three years older. On the flip-side, I personally DO expect more from my older kids. I do explain to them that their reactions to new foods shapes their baby brother's initial reaction as well. I love giving them opporunities to take on more responciblity with how their words and actions affect others!

Sometimes one of your children will just always be less excited about eating than the others. Hey, that's okay! Just keep putting those new foods out, without pressuring them, and watch what happens over time. Sometimes watching everyone else at the table enjoy a meal is just what the doctor ordered for a picky eater.

Meal-time really should be a laid-back, "Hey, how was your day" time. Help your kids relax and enjoy it, too. With a little encouragement, a little discipline and consistency, and a lot less pressure, you really can begin to enjoy life around the dinner-table with your kids.


The (Un)Experienced Mom on Sunday, 01 November, 2009 said...

Great, great, great post! We are dealing a bit with this right now. Not quite as bad as some, but enough to be just annoying. It's really more about control all over the place and not just with food, but then again, he's 2.5 so what do I expect?! And even as a therapist, when I am a frustrated mom, all that info goes right out the window!

Great tips!

Glad you're going to try the 30 in 30! Looking forward to reading more. ;-)


Anonymous said...

Thank you!!!! The last month has been so frustrating trying to get my once eager but no longer the case 19 month old to eat. I'm sad to say that I am at my wits end....and can't help wonder how all this dinner time crying is impacting my relationship with my toddler. Thanks for the advice and the glimmer of hope. Maybe it is not my toddlers issue but mine to deal with how I react.

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