Toddlers are scrappy little things. When they’re out there, asserting their tiny independence, there’s no end to the number of issues they can pick a fight about. The kitchen table seems to be a particularly beloved battleground, which can be exhausting and exacerbating for you, the personal servant caregiver. But don’t worry; there are a few tactical measures you can try to get your little warrior to eat.
Check them out after the jump!
1. Know their needs
Toddlers need an average of around 1000 calories a day (depending on the child’s age, size, and activity level) — but this is not a checkout-line-magazine diet type of deal! Rather than counting calories, it’s much more important to ensure that your child is getting the right combination of nutrients each day.
A general guideline for healthy daily intake is the following:
- 2-3 cups of dairy (could be milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.)
- 4 servings of fruits and veggies (the recommended serving size at this stage is one tablespoon per year of age)
- 2 servings of protein (this can be meat, tofu, natural peanut butter, eggs, beans)
- 4 servings of grains (aim for whole-wheat or complex grains, cereals, etc. to avoid constipation issues)
- And water. Water is good for everyone! Yay, water!
2. Stretch it out
Try not to give snacks within an hour of mealtime (your babe’s tummy will still be full!). Make the meals balanced, and the snacks healthy(ish), so you can be sure that whatever is getting in that tummy will be useful.
If your child refuses to eat a meal or a snack, let it go. Your kid will not starve himself. Toddlers don’t develop under-eating disorders. They can get addicted to sugar, though, so be stingy with sugary snacks!
3. Fill in the blanks
Two words: Gummy vitamins. Kids think they’re candy, while you know they’re getting the vitamins and minerals they need, like calcium, vitamin B, iron, and zinc.
4. Try, try again
Keep offering the nutritious stuff, even if she doesn’t eat it. It could take a dozen tries! Eventually, if your child has been exposed to broccoli and has seen you (happily!) eating it, it will dawn on her that she should try it, too.
Also, don’t expect immediate gratification in this particular effort (what are you, a toddler?). Be patient, and know you’re laying the foundations for a healthy future.
5. Trick ’em
Look, there are ways to get healthy stuff into your kid. What they don’t know will actually, er, help them! For example:
- Smoothies. You can throw all sorts of things in a smoothie that they’ll never know about. Fruit and yogurt (frozen fruit and bananas are excellent here) are obvious choices, but why not mix in a serving of kale, some shredded carrots, or spinach? Who’s to know?
- Green eggs and ham. Mix veggies or greens in with scrambled eggs. “What? What do you mean? Scrambled eggs always come with polka-dots, that’s just how they’re made! You can’t taste it, it just looks prettier that way!”
- Zucchini bread. Yum! And it’s got zucchini! Or pumpkin, or carrots, or whatever. Also, it’s “bread.” Toast it and spread it with some natural peanut butter, and voilÝ !
- Complex-grain crackers. There are all sorts of crazy crackers available now (heath-food stores have really obscure ones), that taste pretty good to kids’ palates. Quinoa-, spelt- or chickpea-based snacks (especially with a little cheese on top) are usually well-received. Find your inner hippie.
- Tasty partners. A little dip goes a long way with veggies. Try mixing up a cream-cheese or avocado-based dip (or even plain ol’ ketchup) to pair with something crunchy. The old standby, “ants on a log” (celery lined with peanut butter and topped with raisins), is great, too. It includes bugs.
6. Bribe ’em
Before you get all angry, we mean small, non-edible, non-gifty bribes. Toddlers like to think of themselves as “big kids”, and flattery will get you far. Let your little one choose a special dish or funky cutlery, just like a big kid would use. Food always tastes better when it’s served on a cool plate!
Variations on this kind of “bribery” include but are not limited to: letting him choose where to sit, using a funky straw, or anything else that will make a meal unique and important.
7. Go easy (on yourself and your toddler)
It’s important to recognize that there are times when you’ll really just need to let things go — for your sake, and your tiny hunger-striker’s as well. Try not to let a mealtime power struggle spiral into a Herculean task. Keep your focus on the main issue of eating. So when it comes to the more nit-picky things like table manners or using utensils properly, give everyone involved a break. All of those skills will come, eventually.
Then, one day, when the babysitter tells you that your remarkable kid requested a bowl of broccoli for dinner, you can sit back and bask in the glory of being a fantastic parent.
You totally deserve a cookie.
About the author: Abbey Westbury is a mother of 2 who has a knack for finding out very obscure information. She has contributed to Lime.com, Raspberry Kids, and Babble.com, and is involved in various parent-related research projects. She lives in Canada with a kindergartener, a toddler, and a big shaggy dog.
Photo credit: iStockPhoto.com