Meal Times And The Terrible Twos

How to get peaceful meal times with your toddler

You want your toddler to have vegetables and healthy food, they want crisps and snacks.

Meal times can become a real struggle once your toddler starts to know what they want. As much as you want your toddler to eat healthy food and food that is good for them, it is not always going to be easy.

Think about it from their point of view. You can have vegetables and other boring food or you can have nice, colourful sweets, yummy crisps and chocolate bars shaped like your favourite TV characters. Which would you prefer?

This is the time where it is vital that you encourage your child to eat healthily as it will encourage healthy eating for life.

The big question is: "how do I replace junk food with proper, nutritious food"?

There are a number of ways to answer this question. I would recommend you have a read through all the ideas in this article and create your own mealtime plan. I would also recommend reading Is Your Toddler A Fussy Eater? for more tips and advice on getting yout toddler to eat a healthy diet and eliminate tantrums at meal times.

Praise and encourage your toddler

Praise and encourage your toddler to try new foods and reward them trying new things (even if they don’t like them).

If your toddler doesn’t want to eat, don’t force them. If your toddler is a particularly fussy eater, make sure you cut out all the snacks and eat at the same time every day and don’t worry if they don’t want to eat that meal.

Take the pressure off your toddler

Another way to encourage your child to eat is taking them out of the house and go out somewhere for food. Allow them to play for a bit, then tell them you are having lunch now. Talk about the surroundings. For example if you are having a picnic on a farm, talk about the animals, what you can see etc. Leave their food in front of them, and they will just start eating it because there is no pressure to eat it.

This also works in a house setting. By talking about things other than food, the pressure to eat and power struggle to be in control is avoided, resulting in peaceful, pleasant meal times.

Don't allow your toddler snack between meal times

By taking out snacks, you are making your child eat what you know is good for them. Your child will not starve if they don’t get a biscuit twenty minutes before their tea. All they will do is fill up their little tummy and not eat any good food.

Have set meal time routines

By eating meals at the same time every day and in the same place (e.g. at the table), your child will start to become hungry in time for meal times. It is also good for them to be in a regular routine so they know what will be happening and when. It is important for you to eat at the same time as your child and eat the same meal (you can have bigger portions though).

Your toddler will get to see how to eat properly and will copy you when you eat. Also, if you have a different meal to your toddler, you can guarantee, they will end up eating at least half of yours (everyone else’s meal always looks better than your own).

A great idea is to let them have their own plate and cutlery set that they have chosen. A plastic Bob The Builder plate and cutlery set will allow your toddler to practice and learn how to use their own knife and fork.

If they are able to cut up something it will make them feel more grown up and independent and they will be more inclined to eat the food. This can even work with something as simple as cutting their own sandwiches into pieces. It makes eating more fun and enjoyable and your toddler is learning vital coordination skills at the same time.

Give your toddler the choice

Your toddler will not starve from missing one meal. If they are in a mood where they are refusing to eat, allow them to get down from the table. Before allowing your toddler to get down from the table, tell them that their meal will stay on the table for half an hour and if it is not eaten then, you will throw it away and they will not be allowed snacks later if they get hungry.

If you manage to stick to your guns and follow through (I can guarantee there will be tantrums later when your toddler decides that they are hungry) you will find within a day or two, they will quite happily eat anything you give them because they are hungry. Obviously if you are going to use this technique, you need to make sure that your child drinks enough to keep them hydrated (but not to much so they fill themselves up).

Things to remember when it comes to your toddler and meal times

The most important things to remember when having meal times are:

  • Reward good behaviour (trying new foods etc)
  • Ignore bad behaviour – your child will not starve from missing one meal.
  • Develop your toddlers interest in food
  • Have a set routine
  • Allow your toddler to get involved and enjoy food.