How to encourage your toddler to enjoy mealtimes
Your toddler is in the midst of establishing their personality, individuality and choices, so involving them with mealtimes and making food fun are both good strategies in helping you overcome any problems.
Plan regular mealtimes
- Routine is important for young children, so keep to regular meal and snack times each day. Don’t plan any mealtimes for just before a nap - it’s likely they’ll be too tired to eat.
- As well as three normal regular meals, you can also offer two or three small healthy snacks during the day. Try rice cakes, fruit pots, plain biscuits, soft fruits, fresh fruit slices, a small sandwich, a yogurt, small cubes of cheese, crackers or breadsticks.
- Don’t offer too many drinks during the day, like juice, as your toddler may be too full to eat when the time comes and this can make them appear fussy. Give water instead and try to phase out the habit of your toddler carrying around bottles and drinking from them all the time.
- Let your toddler decide how much food is enough at each meal. They will know when they’re full and when they’re hungry and their intake of food should even out across the day.
Make mealtimes fun
- Serve food in creative and interesting shapes and sizes to encourage a bit of play: If you have cookie cutters in interesting shapes use them to make sandwiches star, heart or animal shaped. If your toddler enjoys pasta, look for interesting shapes like spirals and alphabet letters to get your toddler interested.
- Think of interesting ways to arrange and name food. Broccoli and cauliflower pieces look a bit like small trees so they can become a ‘Fun Forest’. Or try making a hole in some toast, putting a poached egg underneath it and pretending the egg is hiding inside the hole!
- Decorate plates with smiley faces using different food for different features or create your own game to reward your toddler every time a piece of food goes into their mouth. You could even try an indoor picnic with a rug on the floor and snacks to share.
- Don’t worry too much about mess. Your toddler is likely to eat more if they’re allowed to feed themselves so make a game of it. For instance, let your toddler use a dip like hummus as paint and a carrot stick as a brush and decorate their plate a bit during the meal.
Get them involved
Toddlers respond well to being involved in the process of shopping, cooking and choosing what they want to eat.
- At the supermarket, ask them to spot easily recognisable items such as tomatoes or carrots, then congratulate them when they get it right. Remind them that the ingredient they’re eating is one they cleverly found in the supermarket.
- Your toddler’s too small to get really involved with cooking but they can watch and listen to you from their highchair as you peel and chop ingredients and talk them through preparing the meal.
- Ask them to choose which vegetables they’d like with their meal or give a selection of drinks to choose from. They’ll enjoy being part of the decision making process.
Treat your toddler as an individual
- Even though they’re little, your toddler will have already developed personal tastes about how they like to have their meals served.
- Make sure you follow the way they like their food presented, but don’t go too far and cook a completely different meal.
- You can also give your toddler their favourite cutlery, plate and mug so they’re more likely to look forward to sitting down for a meal.