Toddlers between the ages of 11-36 months old can have apprehensive, inconsistent, picky, & indecisive eating patterns. It is common for children this age to get “food jags”, where a child will only eat 1 food item, or a very small group of food items, meal after meal. It is also common for children this age to eat a few bites some days and then seem to be eating non-stop the next day! Have any of you experienced this with children?
It can be frustrating and worrisome to say the least! But, here are some great tips as you navigate eating patterns with your toddler:
1) Have scheduled family meal and snack times. Have 3 scheduled meals a day and offer sit-down snacks every 2-3 hours between meal times. Say no when they beg for food or drinks in between meal times, expect for water, even if they didn’t eat anything at the prior meal.
2) Offer foods that you choose to your child during meal times. Meal times should be sit-down meals, away from distractions, and be scheduled at regular and reliable times.
3) At meal times, let your child decide how much and even whether she eats from foods you have put on the table and offered. (This can be challenging for some, but this can actually encourage your child to have a healthy relationship with food by teaching children to listen to their body for hunger and satisfaction cues.)
4) Don’t teach your child to eat for emotional reasons. Toddlers frequently get upset. It can be easy to give food to comfort or end crying or tantrums but this can take your child to eat for emotional reasons which can lead to unhealthy eating patterns later in life. Instead, stick to scheduled feedings and sort out the cause of why your child is upset. Often times, attention, discipline, hugs or naps are the better solution.
5) Remember to be considerate to your child’s preferences without catering to them during meal-planning. Examples include giving 2 options of vegetable or fruit choices instead of 1 during meals, having a disassembled pasta, pizza, or Hawaiian haystack dish to give toddlers choices, or providing sauces on the side to keep foods plain since kids tend to prefer foods unmixed and separate from each other. Be patient, a child can take more than 10 exposures to a new food before they decide to try it and/or accept it.
6) Focus on the quality of your feeding relationship – Have scheduled meals and sit down and eat with them. Focus on how your child feels and behaves at meal times instead of focusing on what your child eats. Let your child eat their way – fingers vs utensils, fast or slow, much or little, in any order – even if it is dessert first. This may seem counter intuitive but encouraging your child to listen to their body can help them develop a healthy and balanced relationship with food.