Nicole Bentley is responsible for the management of the Nutrition Services offered at Nutrition Australia Qld. In this article she looks at dealing with fussiness and helping toddlers to make healthy food choices.
Mealtimes with toddlers can be a challenging time of day for parents. While parents want to provide the best food choices for their young children, sometimes toddlers don’t agree with the choices – that can be trying!
The toddler years are a key time in the development of lifelong healthy eating habits and a child’s sense of autonomy. Encouraging toddlers to choose healthy foods at this time can make all the difference to their lives in the future.
The toddler years are a time of change. Once your child has turned one year old you might notice that they:
- Start to show some food preferences e.g. preferring different textures, tastes, and colours
- Like to feed themselves and be more independent
- Suddenly change what foods they like and dislike
- Are less interested in trying new foods (hang in there, this usually improves as they approach five years of age)
Sometimes these changes make life a little frustrating for parents as they continue to try to provide a healthy balance of food for their children. Here are some tips to help keep family mealtimes, happy and relaxed for toddlers and the rest of the family.
Be a good role model and eat together as much as possible
Eat together as a family as often as possible – toddlers learn by watching what and how parents and siblings eat. Be a good role model by letting your child see you and other family members enjoying healthy foods every day. Comment on how delicious your fish is and how it will make you big and strong. Talk about the colour, texture and taste of the tomato you’re eating and even try getting your toddler involved in growing some vegetables.
Parents provide, children decide
As a parent you decide which foods to provide, but it helps your toddler develop their independence if you let them decide how much to eat. As a parent, one of your many jobs is to provide nutritious meals for your child. Meals don’t have to be gourmet or made up of expensive “superfoods”- a nutritionally balanced meal based on the five food groups (grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy and lean meat/alternatives) will provide all the nutrients a child needs. Serve it up and let them decide if they eat it or not. A lot of the time they won’t but if you keep offering it, one day they just might.
Children are born with ‘neophobia’ (fear of the new). This means they may prefer to be a bit familiar with a new food before they are ready to accept it. Letting children experience new foods using all their senses including seeing, touching, smelling, and then finally tasting food, can help decrease their anxiety and increase their food acceptance. Remember it might take 10 times or more of trying a new food before your child can really decide if they like it or not – don’t give up the first time they refuse a new food, offer it again soon, at another mealtime.
Sometimes it can also help when introducing new foods to keep something familiar on the plate. Toddlers like familiarity. Whenever offering a new food always pair it with at least one thing you know they like. This can help them with the fear of the unknown and hopefully get them to try something new.
Another helpful tip could be to use a ‘learning plate’. This is an empty plate in the middle of the table where your child (and even us adults) can put food on there that we ‘are not quite sure about’. This will still allow the foods being refused to be on the table which provides exposure to the child. At the next meal time, you could ask your child to try the food before putting it on the learning plate.