Amy Palanjian, creator of the website Yummy Toddler Food External Site, offers these eight tips to consider the next time your toddler makes mealtime a little less than drama-free.
- Space out meals and snacks to 3 or even 4 hours. Your toddler may need longer to work up an appetite. Try skipping the afternoon snack and serving dinner a little earlier or serving less filling snacks (think fruit and veggies instead of milk and muffins).
- Offer only water between meals and snacks, rather than milk or juice. It's entirely possible that your toddler is drinking half of the calories they need in a day. This would naturally reduce how much food they need to eat. The easiest way to move the needle is to serve more water.
- Include at least one "safe" food on the table. This helps to ensure that there's something they will (likely) eat, even if it's simply fruit, bread or cheese. Familiar foods can be reassuring when there is something unfamiliar on the table.
- Keep portions small. It's easy to forget that toddlers don’t always need that much food. A typical toddler serving is a quarter of an adult serving — which isn’t much! (Of course, toddlers often eat more than that, but use that as your baseline when you start to worry.) Start small and offer seconds if needed. Having just one piece of broccoli or a small spoonful of rice on their plate can also help a reluctant eater feel less overwhelmed.
- Let them decide what to eat at dinner. No commentary, coercing or bribing to get them to eat more of one thing than another. You decide what’s on the table, they get to decide what of it to eat. They’ll probably surprise you with what they decide to eat!
- Remember, your toddler is likely tired. Dinner is often the hardest meal simply because it’s at the end of the day. Keeping this in mind can help your own expectations.
- If you offer a bedtime snack, wait at least an hour after dinner. Some kids ask for a snack after dinner. My advice is to wait at least an hour (if not longer) between the end of dinner and a bedtime snack to avoid a situation where your toddler realizes it’s possible to refuse dinner and get a snack, instead.
- Keep bedtime snacks boring. This is not time for your child’s favorite fruit snacks! Offer leftovers from dinner, string cheese, plain yogurt with fruit, cottage cheese with fruit, toast with nut butter. Let your child decide if they want to eat what's being offered. (In our house, this is called “If you’re hungry, you can have a banana.”)