It can be quite challenging getting your child to eat a varied and balanced diet. With the toddler years often comes a variable appetite, the beloved word “no” has likely been learnt and the food they will happily eat today may not be the same tomorrow. As a parent there is much that you can do to help avoid mealtime battles. The following tips are for you to help meal times be an enjoyable experience for all.
Before meal times provide your child with quiet and relaxing activities. Overexcited children are less likely to relax and focus on eating their meal.
During meal times avoid distractions such as the television and toys.
Don’t give up! It can take up to 15 attempts before your child will happily eat a new food.
Introduce a new food alongside a food that has previously been accepted. For young toddlers this can help them feel more ‘safe’ with a new food.
Praise your child for eating their meal or snack
Keep all eating experiences pleasant and never pressure your child into eating. If your child is unwilling, remove the food from the table without a fuss. Later if your child is hungry re-offer the food rather than preparing something new. Try not to fall into the trap of serving their preferred food knowing your child will at least eat it. A missed meal or two won’t hurt a healthy child.
Always remember the golden rule –
You decide WHAT food and drinks are provided and WHEN. Your child is responsible for deciding HOW MUCH and WHETHER they eat.
In saying this it is fine to offer your child a couple of options at meals times. For example let them select between two different sandwich fillings or two pieces of fruit.
Relax and keep your cool – remember that in the absence of illness/food intolerance healthy children will not let themselves go hungry.
Model good eating behaviour and let your child see that you enjoy eating a variety of food. It is very common for children to ‘do as you do’ rather than ‘do as you say’.
Once a variety of foods have been introduced offer a smaller texture modified version of the family meal. There is no need to prepare a separate meal.
Have your child help with shopping and food preparation. By keeping them involved they are likely to be more interested in eating.
Where possible, enjoy meals as a family. Children often eat better when in company and this time provides an excellent opportunity to learn about food and bond as a family.
Maintain set times for offering your child nutritious food. Grazing throughout the day will lessen appetite when it is time for the next meal or snack.
Go easy on the juice and milk! Limit juice to no more than ½ cup and milk to around 600ml. When consumed in excess these fluids can greatly reduce appetite.
Set time frames - 10-20 minutes for snacks and 20-30 minutes for main meals.
Keep an eye on other reasons why your child may not be interested in eating such as teething, an upset tummy or generally feeling unwell. If you are particularly concerned then it is best to consult with your GP for further advice.