For generations parents have pulled their hair out trying to figure out one of life’s big mysteries…
How do you get a toddler to eat dinner?!?!?!?
As parents of toddlers everywhere know, they can be extremely picky. Sometimes they even refuse to eat something you know they like… The logic behind toddlers is almost impossible to understand but I have a few hacks for you!
First off I need to give credit where credit is due! We bought a book called “The Adventurous Eaters Club” by Misha & Vicki Collins (any fellow Supernatural fans out there?). I’ll admit I only bought it because I’m a fan of Misha Collins… But it was 100% worth it! I love this book so much more than I thought I would! And the tips really work!
(I am not being paid to endorse this book, I just really love it)
Tip #1: Get Them Involved In The Kitchen!
Messes can be cleaned up and the memories you will make together are well worth it! You will also be teaching your child important life skills and safety techniques. Plan ahead so you have enough time to let them help (they will slow down the process). Sometimes even let them plan the meal themselves! You may be surprised how excited your kid gets in the kitchen! I have also found that if they have a part in making it they are way more likely to eat it!
Tip #2: Get Them In The Garden!
Teaching our kids where their food comes from is more important now than ever before. Many adults seriously forget that their food doesn’t actually start out at the grocery store… Getting kids involved in the growing and picking processes gives them a sense of accomplishment around food. My picky eater even loves snacking on veggies right out of the garden that she would never try off her dinner plate…
Tip #3: Let Them Make Some Choices!
Build your own meals are amazing for getting kids excited about eating! Kids have very little control over their own lives so giving them a little control over even little things goes a long way in their development. Choosing their outfits, their play activities and even their food gives them pride in their own abilities to run their lives. Setting out an array of healthy and delicious options and allowing them to choose what they put on their plate is a great way to encourage good eating habits. I was surprised that my daughter wanted to taste every option before making her choices so before she even put anything on her plate she had eaten more veggies than a typical dinner. Below is one example of a build your own meal.
Build Your Own Tostada’s!
Tip #4: Two Things They Recognize One Thing They Don’t!
One thing I had never considered that I learned from the Adventurous Eaters Club was the idea of making sure there are not too many overwhelming new options on their plate. If there are some items they recognize, they are more likely to try the new food item as well. New foods can be intimidating so ease them into it and keep offering it because it can take multiple rounds of exposure before they realize they like something.
Tip #5: You Choose When and What Dinner Is. The Rest Is Up To Them!
We as parents feel the need to control everything our kids do… We need to stop.
We choose what food get’s served because fruit snacks and cookies every night is not building healthy eating habits. We choose when we eat because routines are important (and 4am is not a great time for breakfast…). But leave the rest up to your kid. Seriously, how they eat the food doesn’t matter as long as they eat it. Messes can be cleaned up and play is how kids learn. Making dinner time a power struggle is not only going to cause your kids to resist but will also instill negative feelings about food. I also feel the need to address the dangers of forcing your kids to eat all of the food on their plate. It may have been the tactic used by our parents (I know mine did) but making your kid eat everything in front of them instead of teaching them to listen to their own hunger cues is setting them up for life long failure. Just let them be kids and eat how much and how they want. Even if that means they eat their french fries with chop sticks.
Tip #6: Play With Your Food!
There is no reason food can’t be fun! Playing with food builds positive relationships to eating. Kids learn through play and food preferences are a learning process. Using beats as lipstick, opening green beans to find the babies, putting olives on your fingers and pretending to eat like a dinosaur are all perfectly acceptable in our house! Encouraging your kids to interact with their foods is a great way to get them to try them and like them!
If you take one thing away from this post I hope it’s that positive reinforcement and encouragement is the best way to get kids to eat. Threatening and punishing kids for not wanting to eat can lead to serious food related trauma down the round. We all want what is best for our kids and it’s hard no matter what you do to get kids to eat healthy foods. So on those days where nothing is working (and those days will happen) we have one last tip.
Bonus Tip: The No Thank You Bite!
We have a rule in our house that before our toddler can refuse to eat something she has to take at least one bite. We call this a “No Thank You” bite. If she doesn’t like it after taking a bite then she doesn’t have to eat it. This works well for our kid and after trying something a lot of times she decides she does want to eat it after all. One important key to this method though, They don’t get something else for dinner. If they take a no thank you bite from each thing on their plate and still refuse to eat any of it then they have to wait until the next meal. Giving them something else that you know they like after one no thank you bite will only lead to a no thank you game where you always lose. Remember the two things they recognize, one thing they don’t tip? This also helps ensure that they at least eat something! The no thank you bite simply encourages them to try new things without the pressure of having to eat a full helping of something they may not like.
These tips are what work for my family. Every kid is different and you may have to experiment to find what works for yours. Share our favorite meal time tips in the comments!