Eating out

Having a meal away from home may not be the treat for a small child that it is for an adult. If you are going on a car trip, consider taking familiar and child-friendly foods with you. If a stop-off is easier, do not plan a long meal. It will be very tiring for your toddler.

Introducing new foods

Try alternating a small quantity of a new food that he is resisting with a “treat” of something that he loves, such as sliced banana or soft cheese—or even chocolate kisses! The idea is that you are creating a positive association between the new and unfamiliar foods: “I like that food, therefore I may like this new one.” If his food range is extremely limited (for example, to bread, baked beans, and chocolate kisses), do not worry about introducing bizarre food combinations. Giving your toddler a a chocolate kiss immediately after he has tried a piece of carrot or chicken may seem weird to you, but it will be a treat for him—and will send a message of familiarity and comfort to your fearful child. Once he is happy with the new foods, gradually phase out the treats.

Food games

If your child has fears associated with trying foods, show him that food can be fun. Children who have no issues with food will find these activities fun, too, so there is no need to draw attention to one particular child.

Have a messy food picnic

Jelly, cream, ketchup, rice pudding—you name it; provided it is not hot, it can be smeared on your toddler’s nose, or face, or smeared with the hands, like finger paints. The more odd the food combinations, the better. If your toddler seems nervous or distressed, calm him, smile and show him that you are comfortable with the mess. With your encouragement, he may then follow your lead.

Have a new food race

Set up two sets of very small quantities of new foods in a row on a table. Keep each food covered. On the shout of “Go” your toddler and another child or an adult tastes each food in turn. Reward your toddler with a very small quantity of something that he likes each time he tries the new food. (These tactics are an effective short-term tool in this extreme situation, in order to build up positive food associations.) When he reaches the end of the course, provided he has licked, touched, or tried each of the foods, he can have a suitable “prize.”

Being positive

The more positive and encouraging you can be about food, the more relaxed your toddler is likely to be about eating. Involve him in food preparation from an early age so that he accepts it as a normal part of everyday life. If you know you have had problems related to food—such as a history of extreme dieting or an eating disorder, get help from your doctor or a nutritionist so that you can be sure that both you and your child are eating well. This will also help to reduce the level of anxiety that exists around food in your home.

Top tips for easy mealtimes:
  • Encourage self-feeding.

  • Create a balanced diet.

  • Introduce healthy eating habits.

  • Introduce variety slowly.

  • Be patient and relaxed about food.

  • Praise your toddler when he does well.

  • Keep eating and mealtimes social and fun.

Picnic time

A lot of mealtime problems stem from things being rushed and stressful. A picnic is a great way to enjoy food with your toddler in a relaxed environment.

Overcoming problems

If you have real anxieties about your child and his eating habits, make a note of your concerns over a period of a few weeks and keep a food diary—noting all you can about the amount and times that your toddler eats, and the types of food and drink he likes and dislikes. It will help your pediatrician ascertain whether the problem relates to the food, an allergy, the eating routine, or a more deep-seated family problem. If your child has an extreme food phobia (see A balanced diet), see your pediatrician and ask for specialized help. You may need support to overcome it.

Finally—don’t forget to praise the “good” and ignore the “bad” at mealtimes. The more you can encourage your toddler to have good feelings about food, or simply to accept it as a straightforward part of the day, the healthier he will be.

A balanced diet

You don’t have to spend a fortune on food to raise a healthy child, but avoiding junk food is advisable. Steer clear of foods containing unsaturated fats and refined sugar (it has no nutritional value and may contribute to disruptive behavior), and limit salt intake.

Include foods from these food groups daily for a nutritious diet:

  • Milk and dairy foods.

  • Meat, fish, eggs, beans, peas, and lentils.

  • Bread, rice, pasta, grains, and starchy vegetables.

  • Plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Toddlers have very small stomachs and small appetites, too. It is therefore very important that what they eat is as nutritious as possible.

Don’t consider giving your toddler low-fat milk until he is two years old. Skim milk is not suitable at this age.

How to keep a food diary

If you are concerned about your toddler’s diet, then keeping track of what he eats, and when, will help you spot if he is getting a balanced diet and whether he has been snacking between meals or filling up on liquids. The list does not have to be scientifically precise to give you a clear picture of your child’s eating habits. If necessary, cut down on and substitute heavy or sugary foods for healthy portions of fruit and raw vegetables. Don’t forget that liquids are filling, too.

Simply create a new page for each day of the week and keep a list of:

  • The time of day.

  • The type of food or liquid.

  • The amount of food or liquid.

  • Where he ate it.

  • Whether he finished it.

Does your child have a food phobia?

Toddlers are commonly neophobic, which means that they are instinctively nervous or scared of anything that is unfamiliar. In the case of eating, each new food, flavor, and texture is a new and sometimes daunting experience for a phobic toddler.

If the answer to several of these questions is yes, then your toddler may have developed a food phobia. He will need help to overcome his fears and to understand that food and eating can be fun.

  • Is your child uncomfortable with any kind of mess?

  • Does he hate to touch anything wet or slimy?

  • Will eat only foods that are dry and crispy?

  • Do you take pride in having a very clean and tidy house?

  • Do you have you any history of personal issues around food?

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