Before I actually had a child I envisioned family meals around the dinner table, baby eating the same thing mom and dad were chowing down on. Then I had said-child and it all flew out the window. Even now that he’s old enough to eat the same things as an adult, rarely, if ever — okay, never — do we sit down to a meal together. Partly because our 2-year-old’s schedule is completely different than ours, partly because it means he’ll just steal my food, and I’ll be left hungry, and partly because he wants nothing to do with sitting down to a meal.
There are a whole list of suggestions for combating picky eaters and instilling good eating behaviors in kids. This is where you’d probably assume I’d list all these great practices our family follows since I’m a dietitian by trade. You’d be wrong. While one day I do hope to achieve some of these habits, it’s been a long slow journey that is going to take time to achieve. Instead of stressing out over every little thing, we choose to accept that it’s OK if we break a couple “rules” in our house. The only practice we strictly adhere to is that the parent picks what goes on the plate. That way regardless of what else happens, at least it’s nutritious food that ends up in our little one’s belly.
Since our biggest battle is trying to get our toddler to eat at appropriate times, instead of throwing a tantrum every 15 minutes because he wants to EaaaaaaT, that’s the one we’ve decided to work on first. As he grows older and we help his habits change, I’m sure we’ll adjust back toward the mainstream recommendations. But we’re not there, and I’m 100 percent okay with that.
6 Mistakes I Make When It Comes to Feeding My Toddler:
1. Serving himself
I love this idea, in theory. Letting kids serve themselves teaches them to rely on their bellies to say they’re full, not a parent. But this would mean all of everybody’s dinner would be on his plate, the applesauce would be in the container of hummus, the pancakes would be in a bowl of milk, and he would only ever choose the fruit or cereal.
2. Saying: “Sure you can have more ____ … try 2 bites of veggies.”
We are NOT members of the clean plate club, but if our toddler has already had 34,583 blueberries and wants more even though he didn’t touch any other food on his plate, it begs the question if he’s really hungry or just likes getting more blueberries. If he really truly wants more or is hungry, he’ll usually at least pretend to taste something else. That counts in my book; he doesn’t have to actually eat it. It’s not a battle of wills, it’s just a suggestion.
3. Not eating at the table
He won’t stay there. Why fight it? In a parenting battle there is no good outcome; somebody always loses. If he wants to eat perched on his stool at the kitchen counter, so be it. If he wants to eat outside on the front steps, no big deal. However, the only time he’s allowed to eat on the couch is his post-nap granola bar because his little toddler world collapses if it happens any other way. (Choose your battles, right?)
4. Family dinner time
There is absolutely zero way this kid would make it to 6 pm for dinner. Honestly, I can barely get dinner ready by then with a toddler underfoot anyways. I do try to sit with him for his dinner (and other meals we manage to eat at the same time) just so he knows what the deal is, but that doesn’t always happen either. That’s called being realistic sometimes the only five minutes he’s occupied all day is when he’s eating.
If I had to count on three meals and two snacks to give my kid all the nutrients he needs, he’d be SOL. He just doesn’t do meals. When he tells me he’s hungry, he can have something to eat. Sometimes I make him wait a few minutes to learn that it’s OK or to see if he’s really hungry vs. just likes getting what he wants/needs a distraction. We do attempt to structure his eating around meals and snack “time” so that it builds that foundation. (We call breakfast “breakfast,” lunch “lunch,” etc.) This means no battles and no pressure at specified meal times. If he doesn’t want what’s on his plate, I don’t feel like I have to give him something else less he starve. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a free-for-all, but we’re not overly rigid.
6. Sitting in a chair
Like most wild toddlers, he doesn’t like being still, confined, or made to do something. We try not to let him stand on the chair since it’s dangerous, so if he wants to stand at the coffee table and eat, by all means. If he wants to sit in the middle of the kitchen floor with his bowl, whatever. This has gotten a lot better since we took his “little” table away. He likes sitting at the “big” table and knows if he stands on his chair, mealtime is over.
Obviously I’m not telling you these are good strategies or that you should do them. But calm down and cut yourself some slack if you’re not doing what “they” say. Kids are hard enough to raise without the guilt!
What “mistakes” do you make when it comes to feeding your kids?