I have often struggled to get my toddler to eat. It isn’t that she’s a picky eater. Sometimes she will just simply refuse to eat anything. She will gladly throw food, smear food, chew and spit out food… She is willing to do anything with her food except actually ingest it.
Here are some ideas I’ve tried that got results at mealtime:
I Feed My Toddler “Dog Food”
My two year old is obsessed with dogs. She insists on sleeping with dozens of stuffed puppies. She loves to pretend to be a dog and at times refuses to respond to us if we don’t refer to her as a puppy.
One night, my husband took some steaks outside to grill. My daughter asked me, “What’s daddy doing?”
Instead of telling her that he was grilling steak, I said, “He’s cooking meat. Do dogs like to eat meat?”
“Yes!” she enthusiastically replied.
“Well, Daddy is cooking good dog food for us. We get to eat dog food for dinner!” I enthused.
Instead of the normal battle at dinner, our toddler happily chewed (and swallowed) her steak. With every bite she took, I patted her head and called her a “good puppy”.
This game gets her to eat anything we tell her is dog food. Green beans, potatoes, and carrots are also gobbled up. We tell her dogs love to eat them all!
Who says dinner time can’t also be play time? Why must a child’s imagination be put on hold while their body is nourished?
By making dinner into a game, not only was I able to get my child to eat a nutritious meal, I was also able to have fun and encourage her creativity at the same time.
She doesn’t actually eat like a dog when we do this. I really would not approve of her diving face first into her peas. She still uses her spoon or fork. The only difference between a typical dinner and a “dog dinner” is that we don’t have to fight with her to eat.
Families don’t have to eat “dog food”. Pick anything your toddler is interested in and turn it into a dinner time game.
Does your child like elephants? Then, eat elephant food. Does your child like construction equipment? Then tell your toddler the spoon is a dump truck that dumps food into their mouth. The point is to make it fun to sit at the table and eat.
You Don’t Always Have To Let Your Toddler Feed Themselves
It is important to allow your child to feed themselves. They have to learn eventually and the only way to learn this skill is by practicing.
However, my daughter sometimes gets frustrated because she can’t eat as quickly as she would like. If we are eating something that is difficult for her, I will let her start out on her own. If it seems like she is struggling, I try to help her while still allowing her to use the utensil on her own.
If she has too hard of a time, she will give up. Usually she will abandon the utensils and start finger painting with her soup. I try to catch her just before this occurs, though I usually wind up catching her just after. When this happens, I take her fork or spoon and just feed her myself.
It is important to me that she eats a healthy meal. I’m not quite as concerned about how this is accomplished. She ends up eating a greater quantity when I feed her than when she feeds herself. Sometimes I only have to feed her a few bites and occasionally I end up feeding her most of the meal.
You Don’t Have to Eat, But You Have To Stay at the Table
Sometimes no amount of game playing or spoon feeding can get my daughter to touch her food. In this case, I move the plate away from her and tell her that she doesn’t have to eat. However, she does have to sit in her booster seat at the table until Daddy and I are finished eating.
Sometimes she gets bored enough that she will ask for her plate back and start eating without a fuss. Other times it is simply a stall tactic until she decides she wants to be a dog and get attention from us for being a “good puppy” and eating her food.
The eating habits of toddlers can be confusing and frustrating to parents. Many children would much rather play than sit still long enough to eat a balanced meal. Toddlers don’t understand that their health depends on proper nutrition. Frankly, they couldn’t care less. That is why it is our duty as parents to do all we can to convince our children to eat. Once our toddlers grow a little older, we can set more formal dinner table rules.