Toddler years can be a stressful time for both kids and parents, especially when it comes to choosing what to eat. Many children experience “food jags” during their early years where they get stuck on a few select foods and avoid others, and constantly change their preferences. Although it can be frustrating, stay positive and avoid labeling your child as a “picky eater”.
An important thing to keep in mind during this life stage is the parent-child feeding relationship. This relationship includes different roles for the parent and the child. The parent should be in charge of deciding when scheduled mealtimes should be, what types of foods will be offered, and where the foods will be eaten. On the other hand, it is the child’s role to decide what to eat (from the food that’s provided), how much they want to eat, and if they want to eat at all. Here are some tips to keep this relationship running smoothly:
- Avoid forcing children to “eat their veggies” or “clear their plate”. This can cause children to develop a negative relationship with food and may even contribute to obesity later in life.
- When offering new foods, be sure to also include one or two familiar foods that you know your child already likes so you can prevent them from feeling overwhelmed. It can take up to 15 times for a child to accept a new food.
- Serve foods in different ways: make the food look fun by designing them in different shapes, give them different salsas and dips for their fruits and veggies, try different cooking methods (baked, broiled, grilled, raw, or sautéed), and avoid too many seasonings or spices. You can even try blending vegetables into smoothies or pasta sauces to disguise them.
- Try getting them involved. Allow children to help out in the kitchen by washing fruits and veggies or adding in ingredients. Children are more likely to try new foods if they were involved in the cooking process.
- Children like to feel like they have a say in what they eat so give them choices. Instead of asking, “Do you want some veggies with dinner?”, ask “Would you like carrots or broccoli with your macaroni?”.
Remember to be an example for your child. They look up to you and will often imitate what you do. Try eating together as a family at least once a week.
Written by Victoria Luera, Lone Star Circle of Care Registered Dietitian. Published by Ty Bishop.