Mealtime with young children can be difficult and exhausting. Perhaps, you worry thinking that your little one is not eating enough or not eating well enough? Or you fear that he consumes too much of the same kind of food? Do you often get that feeling that nothing is going right? That your child seems completely uninterested in food and stubbornly refuses to swallow what you give him?
The first thing you need to do is relax! Don't tell your toddler that he is being difficult, it could backfire on you and he will become difficult for real. There are several reasons why your child is not living up to your feeding expectations. Let's examine a few of them.
- Children are different from one another in terms of how often they want to eat, when they want to eat and what they want to put in their mouth.
- Some are completely turned off by the particularity of certain types of food, because of their smell and/or texture. Others prefer to eat a very limited number of foods. Fortunately, the majority of them are no longer as demanding over time and acquire healthy and regular eating habits.
- Children grow in spurts. During these growth spurts, they eat a lot. Hence making it seem like they aren't hungry the rest of the time.
- Another factor that may influence your child's eating habits is his struggle to assert his independence, especially from 1 to 3 years of age. Try to avoid power struggles at mealtime. Instead, offer him a reasonable choice... for example, tell him: "Do you want milk or juice? ".
- The best thing you can do is make sure he has the opportunity to choose between different healthy foods. Thus, when he will want to eat, he will take in the nutrients and vitamins he needs.
- Set an example yourself by having good eating habits, especially by having a good and hearty breakfast. If your child refuses to eat in the morning, make sure to provide nutritious and high energy snacks that will satisfy him before daycare or school, or at the end of his day.
- Provide a variety of foods rich in calcium, and not just milk. Such foods include cheese, yogurt or soy milk enriched in calcium.
- Make your child participate in meal planning, the purchase of the ingredients and food preparation. Even 2 or 3 year-olds can lend a hand.
- Let him help you prepare his favorite dishes from time to time, even if it doesn't make it easier on you.
- Try not to turn mealtimes into a war by constantly handing out remarks, making threats or statements on the way he eats.
- Avoid criticizing his choices and referring to certain foods as being "bad". Make sure you offer healthy foods and use your creativity when serving them.
- Be patient. Your child's interest in food will change and evolve over time.
How to help your child enjoy mealtime and healthy eating
Mealtime, well prepared:
- Establish a routine for meals and snacks. Try to feed your child when he is invigorated, not when he's too tired to eat or cooperate.
- Make him participate in the menu choice and meal preparation. For example, let him set the table, pour or mix ingredients... he will be so proud of himself from giving a helping hand that he will take pleasure into eating the food he helped prepare.
- Make sure your little one is sitting comfortably (for example, young children need a booster seat).
- Buy or make yourself a placemat that you will set on the table for your child when mealtime comes.
- Have the whole family sit together to eat. Mealtime is an occasion to have fun with your family.
At the table:
- Give your child the same foods as those you serve to the other family members, considering that they are appropriate for his age. Do not offer him too much choice... it might be overwhelming.
- Keep in mind that children need a few years of training to master the use of a spoon, fork, cup, etc.
- Propose a variety of foods belonging to the four food groups. If your child refuses to eat certain things, such as yellow vegetables, try to sneak it into a soup or stew, without his knowledge.
- Encourage him in feeding himself, whether with the use of his fingers or utensils. Praise him in his attempts and when he excels. Give him utensils and cutlery suitable for children (small, unbreakable) to help him acquire the skills to feed on his own.
- Try to serve different foods he likes already, and another he is not familiar with yet. Don't worry if he does not eat it right away. Sometimes, you just have to try several times before a child learns to appreciate a new food.
- Have reasonable expectations about the amount of food your child can eat at mealtime and the amount of time he can remain seated quietly.
- Make sure he ate solid foods before giving him to drink. Drinks can be very filling.
- Between meals, feed your child healthy snacks, such as carrot sticks, apple slices, celery topped with peanut butter, yogurt with fruits. Avoid heavy snacks.
- Try not to worry about the amount of food he swallows or that he chooses. It will encourage a relaxed atmosphere and allow the whole family to have fun at the table.
- Keep in mind that kids' appetites vary. Expect your 2 year old to eat relatively less than before, as its growth slows down and his desire is all about exploring his surroundings rather than sitting still.
- Let him tell you when he's full. However, before he leaves the table, tell him he can not have a snack until a reasonable time.
- Don't be disappointed or get angry when he doesn't eat a reasonable amount of the meal you have prepared. Children should eat to fulfill their hunger, not to receive the approval of others. In the long run, knowing how to react to his refusals will just make things easier on everyone.
- Try not to express your concerns about the type of food that your youngster is eating or not eating. Children quickly learn that food can be a weapon, a way to get what they want!