Four Tips to Make Mealtimes Less Fussy and Healthier for Your Toddler

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The commonest complaints that pediatricians receive from parents are related to their toddlers’ fussy eating habits. It’s a very typical phase that toddlers go through as soon as they start walking and talking.

A toddler’s refusal to eat creates a lot of conflict. Trying to make a toddler eat a few bites of food is very stressful. Oftentimes, the parents end up throwing away untouched food.

Here is a realistic look at what happens during this phase as well as four tips to help parents cope with toddlers’ eating issues through common sense parenting.

Why Does My Toddler Refuse to Eat?

Once toddlers start to walk, their sensory world expands. As a result, they lose interest in old routines and are distracted by new experiences. Toddlers often become overactive, which makes it difficult for them to sit down and eat. Their refusal to eat is a way for toddlers to try to assert control and test their boundaries.

However, stressing too much over feeding your child only reduces mealtimes to a battle of wills and makes eating even more unpleasant for the toddler.

One research study offers the following advice: “Where the child’s ‘refusal’ to eat is found to be related to unrealistic expectations, parents should be reassured and counselled about the normal growth and development of children at this age.”

If the toddler is a normal picky eater and is thriving despite his or her fussy habits, then common sense parenting dictates that all the parents need to do is provide support and a positive environment.

How Much Should My Toddler Normally Eat?: Common Sense Parenting

Toddlers are also likely to exhibit an inconsistent eating pattern. For example, they may eat a lot of food one day and then very little food the next day. Don’t compare a toddler’s appetite to an adult’s or make a toddler eat more in order to gain weight since it can lead to childhood obesity.

When it comes to a toddler’s diet, quality counts more than quantity. Half a cup of cereal or rice, one slice of bread, and a few chunks of vegetables, meat, tofu, or fruit are enough for a day. Aim for energy-dense, iron-rich food items. Try to limit the toddler’s milk intake to two to three glasses a day.

Create a Positive Mealtime Experience

Force-feeding children may further exacerbate the problem, causing them to become averse to food or to associate mealtime with stress. Encourage toddlers to eat with the family. Seeing others, especially their siblings, eat normally can be a positive influence.

As part of common sense parenting, the parents and other family members should demonstrate healthy, enthusiastic, and unfussy behavior toward healthy and versatile eating.

Don’t Become a Short-Order Cook

Allow the toddler to have some control over what he or she eats, but don’t turn into an on-demand caterer or a short-order cook. Too much variety and too many options merely confuse the toddler and aggravate the toddler’s pickiness.

So, make any necessary adjustments to the family meal so that the toddler can have some too. However, if the toddler still refuses to eat, give him or her some time to adjust.

Use Snacks Appropriately

Packaged snacks, sweets, and fruit juices are sugary and laden with preservatives, which mess up the sensitive metabolism of toddlers. Too many snacks during the day or eating snacks right before a meal will naturally ruin the toddler’s appetite. Incorporate healthier snack items into toddlers’ diets and offer snacks between meals to maintain their energy level and to provide them with additional nutrition.

Offer desserts, sweets, sweetened beverages, and salty snacks only occasionally, offering nutrient-dense, age-appropriate foods as alternatives (e.g., fruit, cheese, yogurt, and cereals). —Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Cut Down Screen Time

Some parents have a habit of feeding their toddlers in front of the TV or handing them smartphones to watch videos during meals in order to make them sit still. Besides contributing to attention deficit disorder, insomnia, and restlessness, excessive screen time can cause toddlers to lose touch with their appetite and sense of taste.

Toddlers’ fussy eating habits and waning appetite are things all parents struggle with. However, stress-free feeding and sensible diet patterns can help toddlers thrive.

Incorporate healthier snack items into your toddler’s diet
Incorporate healthier food items into your toddler’s diet.

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  • Leung, Alexander K. C., Valérie Marchand, and Reginald S. Sauve. “The ‘Picky Eater’: The Toddler or Preschooler Who Does Not Eat.” Paediatrics & Child Health 17, no. 8 (2012): 455–457. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3474391/
  • Fox, Mary Kay, Susan Pac, Barbara Devaney, and Linda Jankowski. “Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study: What Foods Are Infants and Toddlers Eating?.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 104, no. 1 (2004): 22–30. Retrieved from http://jandonline.org/article/S0002-8223(03)01494-9/abstract [/ppmtoggle][/ppmaccordion]

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