Food Fight

 

It happens to parents of toddlers all the time: you prepare your child’s favorite meal, and place it lovingly in front of them only to watch them hurl the plate to the floor. They loved this meal yesterday, how could they refuse it today? Simply put: toddlers tend to be picky eaters. For parents, this can generate a lot of anxiety about the well being of their child. I’m sharing the advice I give moms and dads in my practice to help avoid a daily food fight around the kitchen table.

Don't sweat it.

Toddlers are developing their food preferences. What they like today they may dislike tomorrow and vice versa. For a week straight, they may request (or demand) only one or two of their preferred menu items. That’s normal. And exasperating. Try to be patient, and avoid getting frustrated. Otherwise, mealtime will turn into a power struggle between you and your toddler, and no one wins. Try to include one or two of your toddler’s preferred menu items for each meal, and offer foods to your child more than once. Today may be the day they decide to love something new!

Think big picture.

Ensuring your toddler gets the nutrition they need is one of the biggest concerns when dealing with a picky eater. Consider your child’s food intake throughout the week, not just day to day or meal to meal. They may gobble up a huge breakfast and then nibble here and there for lunch. They may eat great some days and next to nothing on others. Generally, if your child is consistently growing, they are most likely getting enough calories and protein. If they’re easily moving their bowels on a daily basis, there’s enough fiber in their diet. A hungry toddler will consume more at mealtime, so make it easier on yourself by avoiding snacks and lots of liquids prior to a sit-down meal.

Work together in the kitchen.

Including toddlers in the meal planning and preparation may give them more incentive to try something new, and give them an outlet for their desire to control which foods they are eating. Invite your toddler to help you choose healthy items at the grocery store, pick new recipes or ask them to choose the side dishes for your next meal. Toddlers are eager to help, so allowing them to safely assist in the kitchen with stirring, scooping, sifting, counting and adding ingredients can grow their interest in mealtime. You may even want to surprise them with their own apron and chef’s hat!

Don’t give up!

Very few toddlers eat five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. When they exclaim “all done!” at the end of their meal, you’ll often find the serving of veggies exactly as you placed it on their plate - untouched. Again, that’s normal. Continue to offer them healthy choices at each meal, and set an example by making healthy choices yourself. Eventually, they will be open to trying new things, and may even come to enjoy those vegetables!

If you are feeling concerned about your child’s diet, make an appointment with your pediatric provider. They can help navigate this stage of life to ensure your little one is getting the nutrition they need to grow and develop.

  

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Omkar Karthikeyan, MD, FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician. Dr. Karthikeyan brings unique professional experience from working in a cross-cultural setting with medically complex individuals. He has a clinical interests in caring for underserved, immigrant and Spanish-speaking families. He strongly believes in the value of preventive care and immunization. Dr. Karthikeyan has additional certification in Basic Life Support.