Feeding Your Toddler

Want to help your toddler develop healthy eating habits? Offer him only healthy food. There's no reason he needs sweets or junk food at all. But even more important than what he eats is his basic relationship with food. You want him to be in charge of how much he eats, and of getting it into his own mouth.

Photo: Autumn Sproles

The basic rule of thumb on feeding your toddler:

You choose what foods he eats.
He chooses how much he eats, and how.

Why?

Because each of us is born with inner signals that tell us how much we need to eat. When we override our children's innate knowledge, we handicap them for life, and set them up to be unable to regulate their own eating.

Toddlers don't need much. Many of them eat a lot one day and very little the next, but children don't starve themselves. If you obsess about how much she eats, or get into fights about food, you're setting up power struggles. You can't win a fight with someone about their own body. And you wouldn't want to.

Your goal?

To give her a sense of control over her food, which will eliminate power struggles and later eating disorders. At the same time, of course, you want what she eats to be healthy.

Your strategy?

Wait as long as possible before introducing sweets and don't keep sweets in the house. Offer a variety of healthy foods at each meal. Let him feed himself. Don't push her to eat more than she wants or reward her for eating a lot. Don't follow her around shoveling food into her mouth. And if your toddler is anything like mine, use a splat mat, and dunk him in the bath after each meal!

What about snacks?

Toddlers' little stomachs need numerous smallish meals throughout the day. That means snacks, but it doesn't ever mean unhealthy food. The best toddler snacks are simply smaller portions of food you would be happy to see them eat at a meal: healthy crackers with cheese or peanut butter, cut up fruit, soup, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, steamed broccoli.

Many toddlers are too busy during the day to eat enough and ask for food at bedtime. This can drive a parent around the bend, unless you build a bedtime snack into the schedule – which also often helps kids settle down and sleep better. You can combine it with the bedtime story if you’re short on time, but bedtime snacks for toddlers are always a good idea.

Worried about a picky eater?

Most toddlers go through a picky stage. There's an evolutionary reason -- toddlers are "programmed" genetically to only eat familiar foods because unfamiliar foods could be poisonous. Those toddlers who were adventurous eaters probably didn't live long enough to pass their genes on to us, so we most likely come from a long line of picky toddler eaters!

Don't make extra food for your toddler at dinner because you're bound to resent it and it sends her the wrong message. Just serve a variety of healthy foods and let them decide what to try. If your dinner isn't toddler-friendly -- if, heaven forbid, all the food is touching in a casserole, for instance -- then put some simple extras on the table, such as cheese slices, hard-boiled egg, or veggies with hummus for dipping.

Don't worry that your child will always be a picky eater. That's rare, as long as they have an array of healthy foods from which to choose, and don't get addicted to junk food. Taste buds change to enjoy a variety of tastes, including bitter tastes, as kids get older. Eventually virtually ALL kids come to enjoy the foods they've seen their parents eat.

Some letters and advice with
lots more information on toddlers and healthy eating:

Healthy Eating for 2 year old? »
Getting Toddlers to Sit at the Table for Dinner »
Getting Toddlers to Eat Veggies »
Toddler has Become Picky Eater »

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Photo Credit: Thank you to AutumnFawn Photography

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