Both opinionated and inexperienced, toddlers can be exceptionally difficult to feed. It’s not unusual for a child to begin refusing food, losing interest in eating, demanding only particular meals or rejecting new flavors. But this is a crucial period in developing eating habits, and parents should prioritize feeding toddlers nutritious meals as much as possible.
That can seem like an impossible task, but with planning and persistence, your toddler can easily become a vegetable-gobbling young child learning lifelong healthy eating habits. Here are tips on meal planning for your toddler that keep your child fed without sacrificing nutrition.
Plan on meals every few hours
Toddlers often have relatively small appetites. Your son may insist he’s full after just a few bites of his lunch, but oftentimes if you offer him a snack a couple hours later he’ll gladly take it. You can work with this natural appetite to give your child all the nutrition he needs throughout the day. Offer a small portion of breakfast, a mid-morning snack, lunch, and a mid afternoon snack. If he’s full by dinner, let him skip the meal on occasion, but dinner and a post-evening snack can help provide extra opportunities to get calories in for pickier eaters.
Parents are liable to overfeed their children, so scale back portion sizes to approximately one tablespoon per year per dish for a meal. For example, if you’re serving your three-year old child a meal of mushy peas and shepherd’s pie, serve them three tablespoons of mushy peas, three tablespoons of potatoes and three tablespoons of meat. Ask them to eat meals until they’re done, but don’t force them to finish everything if they’re not hungry.
Feed them on a cycle
Children thrive on routine. Try your best to feed your child meals at regular times each day, and try to make those meals on a fairly regular cycle. For example, if you know your child likes rice, try ensuring that you have rice every Monday and Friday. If she’ll eat pasta, make pasta every Tuesday. Feed your child meals at a table, preferably in the same location, so she learns to associate mealtime with a specific purpose.
By giving your child the foods she likes on a regular basis, you make her more likely to eat dinner and simplify your cooking routine. This doesn’t mean completely abandoning the concept of introducing new foods - but you should ensure that every meal has at least one or two elements familiar to your child so that she has another option if she doesn’t like the new food.
Introduce new foods regularly
Although you should ensure that meals are primarily composed of familiar elements, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t attempt to introduce your child to new foods on a regular basis. However, don’t be surprised if your child is disinterested in a new item the first several times you offer it. Children have more taste buds than adults do, which means they’re more sensitive to strong flavors. In addition, they’re naturally averse to unfamiliar textures and flavors, and it can take more than 10 tries to familiarize them with the flavor of something new.
When introducing a new food to your child, be sure that you give her the option to say no or try just a small bite rather than forcing her to eat the entire thing. Try to season it relatively lightly, and don’t use strong flavors like cilantro to flavor a new food. Cook it until it’s relatively soft - don’t offer very young toddlers harder foods like grapes, uncooked carrots or raw broccoli. This may also make the texture more palatable to young children who are used to softer foods. By introducing new foods on a regular basis and remaining persistent when your child rejects it, you can help expand her range of flavors and teach her to enjoy vegetables young. Instilling healthy eating habits can ensure lifelong nutritional health and reduces your child’s lifelong risk of developing life-threatening illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. Take the right steps now to protect your child’s health by preparing a healthy, varied and toddler-friendly meal plan.