Now that your little one has become a pint sized mobile tantrum machine with a mind of their own and personality that’s getting ‘bigger’ by the day, it may be time to tighten your food game!

When it comes to providing a nutritious yet toddler proof meal, it can often feel like a never ending battle. If your toddler is anything like mine, they will no doubt become very fussy about the foods they will or won’t eat at about the same time they start walking.

Although it’s getting challenging to teach your toddler to eat well, it is actually an ideal age to start guiding them towards healthy eating habits. If bad eating habits continue from a young age, they can be hard to change, especially when they become comfortable routines.

As a mum who has lived through such challenges – I’ve penned down 5 key pointers with the help of my peers and fellow mums, to provide some insight into what has worked for us in times of strife!

Do as I say, not as I do

Toddlers want what everyone else has! So if your toddler sees you eating from a bucket of cookie dough ice cream (guilty on all parts!) then expect to be challenged about why they also can’t eat this and this only for each and every meal! It’s worthwhile making sure your own eating habits are healthy and nutritious. Alternatively, you have the option of hiding in a cupboard and secretly scoffing your delights – or outright lying to your child and telling them it’s extra spicy cabbage soup that is disgusting and then disguising the label. The choice is yours!

Excessive milk and juice intake

I used to make this mistake a lot! When toddlers drink more than 16 to 24 ounces of milk and more than six ounces of juice per day, they often fill themselves up and won’t have an appetite for other nutritious food. Allowing fruit juices, cordials or date I even say fizzy drinks, will also provide more sugar than your little ones over excited brain can handle. You will then spend the rest of the day wondering why you can’t calm them down for long enough to sit still and eat their veggies. Cutting out sugary drinks and only allowing a small amount of milk for breakfast and at bedtimes, with just water throughout the day, can really make a difference on a child’s appetite and more noticeably, behavior.

Don’t panic and don’t over think

Though you of course know better than your toddler (most of the time!), it’s important to recognize that your toddler is pretty good at recognizing when they need to eat and when they don’t. Some days your child will eat like a horse. Other days, not one morsel of food will pass their mouth other than in fluid form. This is completely normal – I’m sure you’ve had days like this? Although for me it’s usually the former over the latter! It is far better to follow your toddlers lead on this, rather than insisting they eat when they’re not hungry.

Offer new foods regularly and don’t worry if they will only eat one type of food

For now, research shows that it can take ten or 15 tries before a toddler will accept a new food – especially of the green and healthy variety. So there’s no need to force the issue each and every time. If all your toddler currently wants to eat is spaghetti (no sauce, no meat, nothing from the fruit and veg family) don’t panic! It’s most likely just a phase. In the meantime, your toddler’s current meal plan won’t have any long-term negative effects on their health, as long as they are eating something.

Avoid using food as a reward or bribe

Now this one I struggle with but I still felt it was a valid point to make. If I leave the house without hidden chocolate buttons or miniature fish crackers – I’m basically setting myself up for a fall! Whether it’s to get him in his car seat, in his pram, in his high chair, out of the high chair, out of the car seat… (you see where I’m going with this?) I rely on the good old ‘distract with a treat and complete the task without them realizing’ method. The problem occurs when you create a habit of offering treats for every accomplishment or as a distraction/bribe. It can lead your toddler to develop an unhealthy emotional relationship with food, which in turn can lead to overeating later on. Good luck with this one, I’m still working on it!

Written by Limara Freeman Mother to a toddler and Registrar at Blossom Village Nursery

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