My toddler is particularly partial to a bread sandwich. With a side of bread.
And many parents find they’re faced with a toddler who won’t eat.
I think we all agree that parenting toddlers is an interesting time. One of the greatest trials that we face as parents is feeding our toddlers, preschoolers, and even young elementary kids. It’s so important to feed them a healthy diet with a variety of fresh and healthy food but so often they only want one particular food, often a plain carbohydrate such as bread, pasta or cous cous.
How to raise young kids to make healthy food choices
The challenging behaviour as toddlers grow out of babyhood into a “big boy or girl” and their changing food preferences is a powerful combination.
But actually, feeding your toddler a healthy diet isn’t complicated or stressful when you know these few little secrets.
In fact, I’d go as far to say it’s really easy. Life with toddlers is never entirely stress-free, but you can learn to feed them healthy food and when you know that they are eating a healthy diet, that’s one less thing to worry about.
Present Healthy Food
The idea is simple. You decide what healthy food you’re going to present to your child. You present it at regular intervals. They decide what they want to eat. No pressure, no cajoling, no bribery.
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Plan a Healthy Diet.
The essence of a healthy diet for toddlers, is lots of fruit and vegetables and less packets of food. You don’t have to have complicated dinners (unless you want to.) Easy meals that are based on fresh vegetables are quick and simple to make.
Ideally you all sit at the table as a family and eat the same food. Toddlers don’t need a special meal (unless they have food allergies). They can eat the same food as all the family. Why make life more complicated that it is already?
Combining your toddler’s beloved pasta (or other carbohydrate) with healthy vegetables is fine. They’ll pick out the bits that they want but that’s fine.
Aim to present them with a variety of things that you know they’ll eat and new things that they won’t eat (but will eventually get used to.)
Read more about creating a balanced diet for kids.
Establish a Healthy Eating Routine
Present the healthy food throughout the day at regular intervals. Most people eat breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, after noon snack and then dinner.
Little tummies need feeding every few hours. As long as you’re presenting healthy food and allowing them to choose from the healthy food, you know they’ll be eating healthy food.
Of course they can have a treat every now and then but moderation is the key. Don’t be persuaded into giving them a packet of chocolate cookies when you had fruit and yogurt on the menu.
Allow Kids To Eat What They Want
It is so easy to pressure your kids to eat, to encourage them to take “one more bite”, or that they have to eat their veggies to be allowed dessert.
Research shows that pressuring your kids to eat can lead to eating problems in later life. Plus, if you think about it, you’re teaching them to override and ignore that “I’m full up signal”. You are teaching them to overeat. Overeating is not a healthy eating habit and is one of the main contributing factors to our current epidemic of obesity.
It is difficult to trust your child to listen to their body, but allow them to eat what they want out of the food that you have provided. The healthy food that you have presented.
If you have been giving them healthy food, including healthy snacks all day, you won’t feel stressed out that they don’t want to eat broccoli at dinner because you’ll remember that they ate some apple at breakfast, some vegetable soup at lunch and watermelon for afternoon snack. They’ve already eaten lots of healthy fruit and veggies so a little piece of broccoli doesn’t matter.
You’ll also be much calmer and relaxed as you won’t be fighting them to eat their peas, or carrots, or beans. A battle that you are never going to truly win.
Read more on healthy toddler snacks.
Of course, you can’t stop your toddler shouting and screaming all the time. I have 3-year-old twins (a little old to be classified as “toddlers” but they still exhibit that classic toddler behaviour.) There are days when it feels like all they do is yell and throw tantrums. It’s very stressful for all the family. But there is one thing I don’t worry about. I know that they eat a healthy diet (even if it is bread one meal, garbanzo peas for another meal and half a water melon for a snack). They do eat a healthy diet and I know that I am teaching them healthy eating habits.
More about Dr Orlena Kerek of Snotty Noses
Dr Orlena Kerek is a pediatric doctor and mother of 4 kids. She has written 2 books about helping children eat a healthy diet, “Crunch” and “Feeding Toddlers.” She is the creator and producer of SnottyNoses, a family and parenting site. She is passionate about promoting a healthy lifestyle in children, especially healthy eating habits.