How to Help Your Child Be a Good Eater. Tips to follow to avoid your child being a picky eater and being willing to eat most foods.
There is not much else that stresses a mom out like food. Is he getting enough? Is his nutrition good enough? Is he hungry? Why isn’t he eating as much today? It goes on.
I have been asked a question about how to get your toddler to eat well. There are some things I think you can do to create a good eater who eats a balanced diet. Some tips may be more challenging due to individual personality or physical issues. Here are my tips. Most of these can really apply to every age from beginning eater to toddler years (and perhaps older):
- Continue to offer foods even if you know he doesn’t like it. Kaitlyn can be kind of picky in what she eats. She doesn’t like fruit in general, and she doesn’t like green beans. I feed her fruit three times a day. There are now some she will eat pretty well, but there are others I know she is going to take a few bites of and stop. I still offer them every so often. Not every day (there are enough fruits that I can offer a different fruit each meal and not repeat very often). But she gets them. It takes time for you to really decide if you like something or not, and also your taste buds will get used to something if exposed to it. This can apply to toddlers also.
- One more bite. Babies and toddlers know when they are full. When my baby (10 months) says she is done, I will often tell her one more bite, especially if she is just turning her nose up at the fruit. If she ate well and I know she is genuinely full, I just say okay and she is done. But if she didn’t eat her fruit well, I tell her one more bite. She will clamp her mouth shut for a moment, but I give her my “mommy glare” (you know the look moms give when you aren’t behaving) and she will open up. I did the same thing with Brayden (2.5 YO), but now I take it a step further, explained below.
- Feed what they like. You want to offer a variety of foods, but you also want them to get the nutrition they need. I will offer Kaitlyn a fruit she doesn’t like first, and then I will feed her a fruit I think she will eat. Also, kids, like adults, go through stages where they really like something. I have heard that you can look at your nutritional intake more over a week than worry about day by day. So, there are days Brayden is in love with bananas. Those days, I let him go at it and he will eat up to 4 full bananas by himself. Then if he doesn’t eat fruit that well the next day, I know he more than made up for it the day before. If they are loving something a certain day, I let them have it.
- Offer them what you eat. Brayden eats exactly what we eat for dinner. I don’t make him a separate dinner. At lunch, I will make foods I know he likes (and admittedly I still love those “kid” favorites), but for dinner, we eat “adult” food. He loves it. We have done this for as long as he has been eating “real” food. Kaitlyn does it to an extent. Anything we are eating that she can eat, I give her. However, her diet is still really limited.
- Expect more from them. Have you heard the phrase “people live up to expectations”? It is true. If you give your child food and expect him to not eat it, odds are he won’t.
- Require them to try it. There are times I put a food in front of Brayden that he is not interested in trying. We require him to try it. You have to try to not make it a battle ground. There are times it has become a battle for Brayden and he will try it, like it, but not eat it because he doesn’t want to admit we were right. So remember your child’s dignity. If he tries it and likes it, don’t do the “I told you so” thing. If he likes it, I just say, “Good, I am glad.” You don’t need to take that opportunity to lecture the fact that you were right and your child needs to listen to you more. They are smart enough to draw that conclusion without you saying so. When he tries it but doesn’t like it, thank him for trying.
- Use obsessions to your advantage. Brayden has had his peanut butter and jelly run. That is all he wanted for every single meal. When he would come to the table and see that PB&J was not on the menu, he would tell me he wanted it. I would tell him after he ate everything on his plate, he could hav
- e it. So he would eat everything, but often forget about the PB&J, or just be too full for it. If he eats it all and still wanted the sandwich, I give it to him. You have to be sure you set a requirement you will follow through with. If you know you won’t require all food to be gone, but will say, that’s close enough, tell him to eat the “close enough” amount.
- Get sneaky. If I am feeding something to Brayden I know he isn’t likely to eat much of, I give it to him alone before the other food.
- Give your child an appropriate amount of food. I have heard that if you put small portions on the plate, the child eats more because it doesn’t look so daunting. I don’t know if that is factually true or if it just seems that they eat more. Be sure you don’t give your child more than he can eat and then expect him to finish it all.
- Require more bites. If he didn’t eat many peas but says he is all done, you can require him to eat more peas. For Brayden, X number of bites is better than “finish it all.” Finish it all seems overwhelming to him. If I want him to finish it all, I look at it and estimate how many bites that will take him. I then tell him to take that many bites. If he takes that many and doesn’t finish it, he is done.
- Require real bites. Sometimes Brayden will try to sneak one pea onto his spoon and call that a bite, but we inform him that doesn’t count. He needs to take real, normal bites.
- No negotiations. Brayden has recently started negotiating. I say 5 more bites, he says 2. I then say 5, he says 3. I then say 6 and he says 5. Funny. You have to be wise in what you first say. Don’t say 10 knowing he can only do 5.
- Praise. When your child obeys and is a good fellow-diner, let him know what a good boy he is being and has been.
- Limit snacks. If your child isn’t eating meals well, perhaps he is getting too much at snack time. My son gets snacks once a day. You have to be careful about supplementing the meal if they didn’t eat well. It is tricky. You don’t want your child to be hungry, but you also want your child to eat meals well. You will have to determine when your child is old enough to have to wait when he decides not to eat well. One idea is to save the food that was not eaten and offer that if they are hungry later.
- No dessert. If your child doesn’t eat well for the meal, but is hungry for desert, don’t reward his poor eating with desert. Same thing, if he doesn’t eat well, save the food and offer that before the desert is eaten. I understand that we are often hungry for treats even if we aren’t hungry for other food. I often say I have a separate stomach for deserts. But you want your child to eat good food.
- Require the child to obey. You are going to have to be honest with yourself about this. If your child refuses to follow your voice commands at dinner, he likely is not following elsewhere. If he is not obedient on a regular basis at the dinner table, review your overall parenting and see if you are lacking somewhere. I have always found that when Brayden isn’t being obedient in some way, it is because of something I am doing. You need to swallow your pride and make necessary corrections. Also, don’t feel bad. You are learning as you go. You want what is best. Just make the changes and move forward.
- Appropriate consequences. Like I said before, you have to decide what age your child is ready for things. If you have a child who is spitting or playing with food, thing about what you can do about that age appropriately. Last month, Brayden started to think it was funny to take a drink of milk and then let it fall out of his mouth. He also thought it was great fun to spit his milk out. We told him that was a no. I also told him where he was allowed to spit. I said, “You may spit outside and you may spit in the bathtub, but you may not spit at the dinner table.” We also told him if he continued, he would not get to have milk. There was a time he did it again, and his milk was taken away. He was better after that. Perhaps your child will need to be removed from the dinner table or have food taken away. When Brayden was younger, I would take the food away and set the time for about 30 seconds. Then he got it back for another chance. That was enough of a wake up call for him. Perhaps a privilege needs to be taken a way. Maybe a time out. You know your child; you need to decide what consequence will work best for him.
- Let child set the pace. Children and babies are really good and knowing when they are full. Most adults could take lessons. If your child is full, then he is full. Don’t stress. If he says he is full but gets hungry before the next meal, explain he should have eaten more for the previous meal. You could move the next meal earlier if possible, but so long as your child is age-ready, there is nothing wrong with letting him experience consequences. Keep in mind that children’s appetites vary. Growth spurts come and go. Also, around a year of age, they decrease the amount of food they eat dramatically. Just like sometimes you can be more hungry than others, your child can be.
- Be aware of other factors. I find that I have to be careful about what I tell Brayden he can do after he eats. He is at an age where food is an afterthought. He wants to play. If he asks to do something, I can’t just say “after you are done eating” because he is then immediately done. I have to say, “After you eat your food all gone” or “After you eat all that Mommy tells you to.”
- Be a good example. If you want your child to eat well and behave at the table, you and your spouse should also do so. One time we were having mixed vegetables that included lima beans with dinner. Brayden tried one and was simply disgusted. I started to eat them and just couldn’t do it myself. I didn’t require him to eat them because I couldn’t do it.
- Require your child ask permission. When Brayden is done eating, he says he is all done. I then ask him if his tummy is all the way full. He usually says yes, though sometimes he tells me he needs one more bite of something first. If he is full and I think he has eaten enough, I inspect his hands. Then we clean him up as needed and he can get down from the table.
As always, if you have your own ideas, please post a comment with the things that have worked for you.
Related Posts/Blog Labels:
- What To Do When Your Child Doesn’t Like a Certain Food
- Appetite vs. Hunger
- Food Portions for Children Baby-8 Years
- Overcoming the Picky Eater
- Picky Eaters: Born or Made?
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