I have had more than a few clients enlist my assistance not to help them lose weight, but rather to help them get their toddler to eat…anything! They don’t call the period in a child’s life the “terrible twos” for nothing. These early years are a time of rapid growth for a child, where many physical and cognitive changes are occurring. They are beginning to assert their independence through walking (away from you), talking (saying no), and eating (or not eating) whatever they darn well please. What’s a parent to do?
First off, relax. Stages are just that: stages. Your little one will grow out of it, some sooner than others. Here are some tried and true guidelines to get your tiny devil – er, I mean angel, to eat:
- Children are copycats – if you stick out your tongue at certain foods, or only eat junk, guess what they are going to do? Be a role model (even if you don’t feel like it!).
- Stop their snacking at least 1 to 2 hours before meals and even longer for older children.
- Ride out the “food jags”. Food Jags are where a child eats one or two things, and that’s it. Keep giving it to them. They’ll snap out of it eventually, and you’ll be able to introduce other foods before you know it.
- Everyone must sit at a table at mealtimes – this includes even the littlest children. Eating at set times with the whole family fosters normalcy, comfort and stability for a child, and in turn, they will develop healthy food behaviors.
- If he or she throws a tantrum at the table (screams, throws food, refuses to eat), this is more than likely a ploy to get your attention – don’t give in. Look the child squarely in the eye, make a positive comment about the food, encourage them to eat it, and then leave them alone. Direct the conversation to another topic with the other family members, and continue with the meal. Pretty soon they’ll get the hint that sort of behavior at the table isn’t tolerated.
- Seek input from the child (and other family members) about what they like to eat. Plan meals around these preferred items (assuming they are not just cake and ice cream!). Involving even the smallest children in mealtime decisions makes them feel important, and they in turn will eat better because of it.
- On the other hand – don’t be a short order cook. Nothing frustrates me more than seeing my friends cook 3 or 4 different meals for their family. One meal. For everyone. Period. (Seriously, did your mom cook you and your siblings something different than from what she and your father ate? Doubtful.).
- Don’t force food. Prompt a child to eat what is served. If they refuse to eat or say they don’t like it, encourage them to eat it, state how good it is for them and that it is tasty, and leave it at that. I promise you, your children will not starve to death for refusing a meal or two.