Developing Healthy Eating Habits in a Toddler (Part Five)

By August 20, 2014 January 6th, 2015 No Comments

So your toddler is exhibiting signs of becoming or has become very fussy. The first thing to do is not panic and read on…


I’ve given loads of tips for developing healthy eating habits already in previous posts.  Here are a few more things you might like to consider…


1. Toddlers are aware and attuned to your anxiety and if they get a whiff of it, you will make it harder on yourself in the long run.  Even toddlers like to engage in power plays and test boundaries with food.  My first born was the best at it and I had to be very conscious of becoming irritated with her at meal times.  Be cool, calm and collected all the way.  You have nothing to gain by getting frustrated that they don’t want to eat what you’ve lovingly prepared.  Becoming upset with them will not change their minds.


2. Start as you intend to continue – If you choose to give in at dinner time and take away a nourishing meal and replace it with something less nourishing (even if you’ve insisted earlier that they won’t get anything else), then your toddler will have got their way and will expect this to happen all of the time. Your call but I’ve found that consistency and following through in any part of parenting is important.


3. Remember also, they won’t starve.  I totally understand that desire for them to eat a big meal so they sleep well and don’t wake too early; I’ve been a sleep deprived mum too, I get it.  But it won’t help in the long run.  I have sent my kids to bed with very little to eat many times and it hasn’t altered their sleep patterns at all.  Sometimes they are not feeling great or just too tired to eat so forcing them or trying to tempt them with other food is counterproductive and sets up very bad habits.


4. You must share meals with your toddler.  I have already discussed this here, but I can’t overestimate how important this is.  Kids do as you do, not as you say.  Demonstrate to your toddler how much you enjoy what you’re eating.  Share a plate of food and make lots of pleasurable sounds whilst eating (dramatic but effective).  With an older toddler, tap into their love of hero’s or role models.  Say they love Dora and if they push food away; put your hand out and say “I’ll have that, it’s really yummy plus I want to be as strong and clever as Dora!” – whatever appeals.  Don’t harp on, just regular subtle hints.  Also don’t talk health or ‘this is good for you’.  Most toddlers aren’t the least bit interested in being healthy or ‘good’.


5. Get them involved in producing the meal in any way you can.  I understand they have an attention span of seconds, but anything they can do to be involved will help.  I will give you lots of ideas of ways to involve toddlers in the kitchen soon (it’s simpler than you think).


6. Are they really hungry?  Many kids are fed a stream of snacks during the day or given milk close to meal times.  This is seriously counterproductive to them having a desire for a healthy meal come dinner time.  My next post will cover the cardinal sins of snacking.


7. Don’t use food fussiness as an excuse to feed them nutritionally void foods.  You persist when toilet training or teaching other life skills like reading and writing.  You won’t be reporting to their teacher when they start school that they don’t like reading so there’s no point in trying to teach them.  Persist with patience and praise and you will prevail.


shutterstock_150638075They are not interested in eating vegetables and/or protein.


So many kids are vege and/or meat fussy.  I think many people think my kids have always just eaten big bowls of salad leaves and amounts of veges.  The fact is they haven’t.  I took me three years of serving up salad leaves for example for either of my kids to accept, and now love salad.  You have a few options beyond the before mentioned tips with vege and meat fussiness…


1. Hide them – use any meal you make as an opportunity to hide vegetables.  I have found that very fussy kids are often nutritionally deficient and these deficiencies perpetuate their fussiness.  For example, a zinc deficient child will have a poor appetite and generally only desire sweet or processed carbohydrate which leaves them even more deficient (viscous circle).  The more nutritionally satisfied a child becomes, the more open and willing they are to trying and eating new whole foods.  So for this reason if hiding veges is the only way to kick start that desire, then hiding it is.  Process them finely and mix into whatever you can.  I have lots of hidden vege type of recipes on my website.


2. If you don’t hide them, at least make them tasty.  Don’t serve up plain old steamed veges.  Add flavour, a blob of butter, squeeze of lemon, splash of olive oil.  Make a dipping sauce of plain yogurt with a little tahini and seasoning or a pesto or hummus.  I’ve found lots of kids love playing around in a dip.  Again demonstrate how it’s done and share it.


3. Try lots of different textures and ways of cooking a food.  For some kids they like the meat blended into a soup, others chopped into little pieces.  My kids always loved gnawing meat of the bone so a drumstick or a lamb cutlet was always appealing to them.


4. But always serve them up.  Keep putting just a small amount on their plate, every meal.  As they get older you might like to start a rewards chart to encourage them to try new things (I’ve always taken the ‘you don’t have to eat it, but you do need to try it’ approach) – no force, just encouragement and lots of praise.


Finally, it is not a stroke of luck that I (and many others) have kids who eat almost anything.  It is a case of firm boundaries, patience and persistence.   Doing the hard yards from the get go is the simplest way of raising a healthy, nutritionally satisfied child.


Words: Georgia Harding

[author] [author_image timthumb=’off’]http://www.savvymama.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/staff-georgia2.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgia Harding is a Naturopath of 18 years, mother of two and creator of delicious food memories. Georgia has created an informative health blog packed with nourishing family friendly recipes. www.wellnourished.com.au [/author_info] [/author]
Well Nourished

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Founded by Georgia, a mum, cookbook author, naturopath with 19 years experience and the creator of The Well Nourished Lunch Box Challenge, Well Nourished delivers wholesome, easy-to-follow recipes targeted to busy families. Readers flock to Well Nourished for inspiring health advice and free, nourishing, family friendly recipes. // www.wellnourished.com.au