Food, like anything else, can develop into a battle in a household with a toddler. It can be difficult enough for a parent to walk the line between making sure that your child eats enough food and making sure your child eats the right food. Navigating that territory while instilling lifelong habits of healthy eating might seem nearly impossible, especially when you’re fighting over every new food you introduce. There is some hope however.
With a little thought and ingenuity, you can teach your child to eat without engaging in modern tricks like fortifying their favorite foods with a blender full of veggies.
The first step to teaching your child healthy eating habits is to step back from the process a little. You used to control everything about what your child ate. Now, you need to remember that you are sharing the reins because your toddler is old enough to exert some control over his or her own life. Toddlers are just beginning to explore the world of food and all that it has to offer so make the experience a pleasurable one and engage them in the process of eating. For example: let your child take a role in the kitchen while you are preparing dinner. Anything that they ‘made’ will be that much more exciting to eat when it gets to the table.
You can also provide your child with appropriately sized dishes of their very own. Having a personal connection to their dishes will help to foster a connection with the food that is on them. Another way to engage the child is to provide him or her with a variety of options that include different tastes, textures, and colors at each meal. Make sure there is something you know your child will eat on the table, but give them an opportunity to choose what new things they try.
Your child wants nothing more than to be a part of the things that you do at this age. Model healthy eating habits and food behaviors now, while you can influence your child’s behaviors. This will allow you to teach your toddler what their diet should be like without ever saying a word. You can do this by making sure that you plan and serve healthy meals for yourself as well as your toddler. Demonstrate that you like to eat well and you will soon have your child reaching for the food from your plate.
Try to make your associations, and by extension your child’s, with food are positive. Don’t scold when your child doesn’t clear his or her plate and don’t complain about your food either. Happy food memories will shape you toddler’s relationship to food throughout their life—and so will unpleasant ones. We can all remember being forced to finish food we didn’t want or were too full to eat. Your child doesn’t have to have bad memories of food and with a little help from you; he or she will come to see healthy eating as a privilege.