You may be thinking, “Is this even possible?” I’ve had the same question and still do at times.
It has been a challenge with each of our kids during different phases of their childhood to get them to eat real food over waiting around for a treat or dessert. Even worse, choosing not to eat because they refuse to eat something that isn’t packaged pretty or highly processed. It can make you want to pull your hair out and simply give up. And, I would be unrealistic to say I’ve never thrown in the towel, especially when we are away from home. And, it’s ok!
The inspiration behind this post is because we are currently battling our 2 1/2 year old daughter. It’s a struggle to get her to eat any meal of the day without a “I don’t like it.” She is definitely practicing her right of opinion nowadays. So, I have been diving deep to the core ways that have worked for each of our kids at one point or another to get them out of that picky rut. And, will create more structure and healthy habits.
So here it is…
5 Ways to Get Toddlers to Eat Real Food
1.) Refrain from asking, “What would you like to eat?”.
No kidding, I got in a bad habit with this recently asking my 2 1/2 year old what she’d like for lunch. This led to food battles and made her think she was completely in charge. (Read below on how give her some of this power, but not all.) As if she was going to ask for a plate of veggies…HA! There have been times when my kids will actually ask for something like that, but this phase is not one of them!
I’d definitely made a bad habit out of asking this question. And, I was not getting the response I’d hoped. Now, I say something like, “Sit down, and I’ll get you a big plate of food for you”. I always make sure there are a couple of whole food things on the plate that she really enjoys. The other items are whatever we have in the fridge/pantry that’s available that day. If she chooses to eat it all then, great. And if not then, she can have it ready for her when she’s hungry again.
It’s also a great idea to give them choices. Give them some of the choosing power. For example,”Would you like like peas or cucumbers on your plate?” Or, “Would you prefer almond butter or peanut butter as your dip?” Simple parenting strategies can make things go smoother with your toddler feeling like they have some of the choice.
2.) Have a designated place they sit each time with a buckle.
This is another lazy parenting habit I’ve fallen into with each of my kids, and quickly recognize the importance of having a special seat just for them that has a buckle to keep them there. Consistency allows them to know what is expected when they sit down to eat.
Toddler age is such a busy age. The discipline to sit at the table until they’re full is impossible with out something to keep them there. Our kids became grazers going back and forth from the table instead of a eating a meal until they’re full. Rarely do they get full from grazing and I hate the thought of messy fingers everywhere in the house. Use that buckle! I promise, they will eat more when they know they can’t go anywhere and you’ll be happy to not hear “I’m hungry” every hour. It’s a win-win! 😛
3.) Lead by example
Your example has twice the impact as your good advice. When we show how to eat healthy, or how to show kindness, they will most likely do it they way you do. I grew up eating peanut butter on bread with my chili. I didn’t even know most of the world didn’t do this until I was married, and Mr. Clark asked why I did that. (Because that’s what my parent’s did!)
Show them how, and they will most likely follow in your path.
4.) Differentiate Treats and Snacks
Differentiate snacks vs. treats with your kids. A snack is something eaten between a meal when getting too hungry. A treat is a special occasion food item. Often times, toddlers (and kids!) will ask for a snack, but really mean a treat. Sneaky kids! 😛 Differentiate these two and you’ll soon find out your kids aren’t as hungry as they profess to be.
This goes for adults too. In between meals, are you really wanting something to hold you over until the next meal or are you wanting something sweet or salty (as in, a treat)?
5.) Sneak in more veggies
Actually, I’m really not a fan of this idea except under one circumstance. If your kids are going through a picky phase (and you know it’s only a phase), and you’re concerned about their health (constipation, upset stomach, poor immune system, handicap). That would be the only time I’d try to sneak in addition veggies and nutrients into their diet. Otherwise, their typical diet should already have vegetables in it. If we always sneak in veggies without them ever knowing they’re eating them, they’d never adapt to eating nutritious real food.
For example, my toddler is just coming out of one of these super picky phases. So, I began sneaking vegetables into her food in order for her to get vegetables into her diet to help constipation. It was helpful when I stayed on top of it.
The reason I feel this is the only good circumstance is because I believe kids need to adjust and mold their taste-buds to the flavors and sweetness of non-processed foods. (If your’e wondering if vegetables are sweet…yes, once the processed and refined food is pulled out of a diet.) If we always hide the veggies, they’ll never adjust to the flavors and textures.
Hope these tips are helpful for you with your toddler! <3