I look back at my children's toddler stage with genuine fondness. And that might be largely because the memory of the temper tantrums has faded, along with the memory of the time I spent cajoling them to eat certain things. At times, this involved all of the mature and time-tested tips you'll read about below. At times, there was some begging. At times, I'll admit, there may have even been some bribery involved.
Toddlers have reached the age where they have some opinions, and they want to tell us things. But they may get frustrated when we just don't get the message. At the same time, your toddler has likely entered that crucial state of independence, which can make them incredibly strong-willed. And that means mothers of toddlers need every trick in the book to get through the day with a genuine smile on her face. Here are a few tricks you can use when it comes to helping your toddler eat healthfully.
1. Use your toddler's independence to your advantage. Whenever possible, give your child a choice between two healthy alternatives. Would she like a banana or an orange? Carrots or sugar snap peas? Whichever it is, commend her healthy choice, repeatedly.
2. Be careful of introducing too many sweets at too young an age. My third child developed a sweet tooth early on, and I'm sure it has something to do with the introduction of sweets to him as a toddler. Let me explain: when my daughters were very young, I was in greater control of what kinds of sweets they were exposed to, but by the time my son came along, he was introduced to more cake and candy, and the like just by virtue of the fact that his sister's were older and were allowed to have those things at birthday parties, when visiting relatives, etcetera. It was like his taste buds got overwhelmed and sort of spoiled, and I still blame this for his aversion to veggies. If I had it to do over again, I would be a lot more careful of the sugar that went into his mouth at this age.
3. Involve your child in the cooking, as much as possible. Allow your toddler to toss the salad each night, for example. When you are sharing time in the kitchen together, talk about all the ways that healthy foods help our bodies and how great that healthy food makes you feel. Make sure your child sees you making healthy choices for yourself, every single day.
4. Disguise the veggies, if that's what you are into. There are a few popular cookbooks out right now that have mommies pureeing spinach and cauliflower so they can sneak it into spaghetti sauce. Or studding the chocolate chip cookies with a few cupfuls of garbanzo beans. In my family, we've made the choice to eat healthy foods and to appreciate the flavor of these foods, followed by an occasional (real) dessert, but some mothers swear by this method of hiding vegetables in the dish, and some say that it's a great way to not only get more vegetables into your picky toddler, but also to get them accustomed to the flavors of those vegetables, even while they are masked somewhat by the taste of a food they love. You might want to try it to see if it works for you.
5. Use finger foods and toothpicks. Toddlers love to eat with their hands, and - for some reason - when my kids were young, they would eat virtually anything if they were allowed to first spear it with a toothpick.
6. Know how much to serve. If you're worried that your child doesn't seem to be eating enough of the healthy stuff, familiarize yourself with toddler serving sizes. They are smaller than a lot of people think. Stop stressing, make good food available and do your best. Make sure to talk to your pediatrician about any concerns you have regarding your child's nutrition. Your doctor will have more tips and, most likely, some reassurance.
While I wish it weren't true, getting your toddler to eat healthy food is going to require a certain amount of creativity - and some quick thinking-on-your-feet. This is a great issue to talk with other moms of toddlers about. See what other moms are doing to make sure their toddlers eat healthy.