Food Fight: Nutrition Tips to Keep Your Toddler Healthy
By Sara Butler
There are a few things toddlers are not well known for. Chief among them are the excitement to try new foods and an open attitude. They think they know what’s best, which extends to their meals.
Chances are that your toddler is not a fan of trying new things. When my kids were little, if it wasn’t beige, they didn’t want to eat it. Toddlers can be picky, and overcoming that pickiness to instill healthy eating habits in them can be one of the biggest challenges of the toddler years. Toddlers are texture police, after all.
At The Joint Chiropractic, we appreciate the struggle of parents everywhere. That’s why we’ve come up with a few tips to help you conquer your toddler’s love of beige food and diversify their diet as you lay the groundwork for healthy lifelong eating.
What Are Parents Worried About?
Listen to any group of toddler parents for a while and you’ll likely hear some common concerns being expressed when it comes to their child’s eating habits. What are parents so worried about? Some of the most common concerns include:
- Growth - Many parents are concerned about a sudden change in their child’s eating habits once they turn 2, but the truth is that their growth tends to slow around that time and their appetites reflect that. Even the amount they eat can change daily; it typically isn’t something parents need to worry themselves over.
- Snacking - Grazing and snacking are cornerstones of the toddler lifestyle. Trying to fit them in a box where they eat three square meals per day will just end up frustrating you. They have small tummies, therefore small, frequent snacks make sense. They’re on the go, after all!
- Pickiness - If your little one is fussy about eating, you’re not alone. This is a phase of fierce independence. It’s normal for a toddler to refuse the food you offer them. The tricky part is understanding that their refusal doesn’t mean they don’t like it, they’re just trying to assert themselves.
There are other issues surrounding toddler eating habits that worry parents, but it is often a normal developmental behavior. Tantrums at mealtime, food refusal, or even a focus on drinks more than solid food are typical at this age, so try not to sweat it too much.
Tips for Toddlers
Mealtimes are a learning experience for a toddler, so make sure to approach them as such. They’re learning how to hold utensils, feed themselves, experience new textures and tastes, and decide whether or not they’re feeling full or they need to keep eating. That’s why there are a few do’s and don’ts that parents must remember if they want to instill good eating habits. Remember these tips:
- Food isn’t a consequence - It’s not unheard of for parents to offer food as a reward or to take it away as punishment, but that’s not a healthy habit to teach a toddler. Using the reward/punishment system undermines the healthy eating habits you’re trying to instill. It will also interfere with the natural ability your child has to regulate what they eat, often encouraging them to eat when they’re not hungry.
- No need to join the “Clean Plate Club” - If your child is on track developmentally and is healthy, then there’s no need to pressure them to clean their plate since it will only encourage a child to eat past the point of fullness. If it’s an issue for you, then consider using a smaller plate. In most cases, you’re the one who controls the portion size.
- Choices are a good thing - Your toddler needs some say in what they do and don’t eat, so make sure to give them choices. Have a selection of foods for snacks and meals, and let them lead on what they want to eat and how much of it they have. Remember, they’re choosing only from foods you’re presenting them, so it’s OK to give them a little leeway and help foster their fierce independence.
Getting your toddler to eat a nutritionally-balanced diet can take time. Just remember not to force it; they’ll eat when they’re hungry. And if they don’t like a certain food, then offer it again another time -- not all hope is lost!
Mealtime is not a time for high-pressure tactics to get your toddler to eat. Instead, it should be a pleasant experience for everyone involved, where you share your day and spend some time together. Your toddler will one day explore foods that aren’t beige. Simply keep offering it to them, and that day will come!
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