Feeding a toddler? Pause, take a deep breath, and pat yourself on the back. Nourishing a 12 to 36 month-old can be nothing short of exhausting. Check out my tips for finding calm in the midst of the mealtime storm.
EMPHASIZE YUMMINESS OVER NUTRITION.
Does a two year-old care that broccoli is "healthy"? Ummm, no, and I personally feel it's a mistake to engage talk about the nutrient content of food at such a young age (hello, orthorexia). What he or she DOES care about is how it tastes! We have a hard and fast restriction in our home: NEVER utter the phrase "Eat it (or try it)! It's good for you!"
How to reframe? Talk up the good taste of nutritious foods. The dialogue doesn't have to be directed at the child. Just get in the habit of opening the dialogue among grown family members. This works best when parents and caregivers...
MODEL, MODEL, AND MODEL SOME MORE.
Don't talk about it - be about it. Optimal nutrition is a family affair. Set the example by snacking on fruits and vegetables, sipping water, and genuinely enjoying the foods you'd like to see your toddler eating. Establish the habit of serving the same meal to all family meals. You're doing yourself no favors as a "short-order cook" who caters to every family member's mealtime whims. This concept goes hand-in-hand with the Division Of Responsibility, which states that the parent determines which foods to serve and when, while the child determines whether and how much to eat. More of Ellyn Satter's method here.
TRY, TRY, AGAIN.
One day your toddler is chowing down on sweet potato and chicken, a couple of days later he won't touch either one. What gives? "Fickle" is a common descriptor of food habits at this age - and it's perfectly normal! Just as your little one might suddenly shun a particular food, you might also find him on a "food jag" - a period during which he wants to eat the same thing over and over again.
While forcing and cajoling your child to eat ANYTHING is a poor strategy, continue offering a variety of foods and experiment with preparation methods. Whether the food is accepted or rejected, don't make a big to-do either way.
QUIT YOUR FOOD DEMONS.
Labeling foods as "good"/"bad" or "dirty"/"clean" sets a precedent for food fear, shaming, and judgement. If you engage in this sort of talk in your head or with your peers, check yourself. Check your facts, check your values, and examine the potential impact of this negativity on your child. Your child's health may be your top food-related priority, but raising a joyful, curious, culturally-competent eater should be close behind.
Hey, you. Chill out. If your child is growing, hitting milestones, and showing signs of healthy development, chances are you're doing your job. So the next time your toddler turns up his nose at a plate of veggies you so lovingly prepared, shake it off, eat the leftovers, and know that this too shall pass. Stress only compounds stress, and if mealtime is a constant source of anxiety for the parent, it will also be for the child. This Ellyn Satter quote sums things up quite nicely: "When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers." Oh, and remember this...
ENJOY YOUR FOOD. ENJOY YOUR LIFE!!!