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Feeding Toddlers: 9 Tips for Joyful Meals

This post was created in partnership with the Beef Checkoff program. I was compensated for this post. All opinions are my own.

Toddlerhood can be a trying time for parents, especially when it comes to feeding them. For one, toddlers can be finicky with food. They like food one day and refuse it the next. Or, they like food for a lot of days…and it causes parents to worry they aren’t getting enough of the right kind of nutrition.

In this article, I’ll review my top tips for feeding toddlers so that you experience more joy in the process and at the table.

Feeding Toddlers: 9 Tips for Joyful Feeding

Why are Toddlers Picky?

Part of the reason toddlers are unpredictable with their eating is that there’s a lot going on in this developmental stage. Growth slows down quite a bit (compared to infancy) and this may reduce appetite.

Toddlers may become fearful of new food (neophobia) and reject foods that aren’t familiar. They can get hooked on their favorite foods and want them again and again (otherwise known as a food jag) and, as a result, be less inclined to try new food.

These signs of picky eating may trigger negative feeding from parents, such as pressuring toddlers to eat, or offering treats for taking bites of vegetables.

Signs of picky eating may trigger negative feeding from parents, such as pressuring toddlers to eat... Click To Tweet

Development Aspects in Feeding Toddlers

Toddlers also learn that actions have consequences. Simultaneously, they want more independence as they begin to separate from their parent.

For example, a toddler may throw his food off the highchair tray, and get a reaction from his parent. He may want to see if he can get that reaction again, especially if it was different or out of the ordinary.

Furthermore, toddlers start to explore the world and they learn the power of “no.” This can show up in eating.

For instance, a toddler may be willing to explore different foods, particularly if he is able to do so on his terms. When parents try to “help,” some toddlers may disengage and refuse to eat.

While it takes a lot of patience to feed the toddler, keeping your eye on the long-term goal of creating a healthy relationship with food, while nourishing your child at the same time, will help you keep positive feeding and nutritious meals front and center.

(Be sure to check out the recipe for Grilled Southwestern Steak and Vegetables at the end of this post!)

9 Tips for Feeding Toddlers:

Tip #1: Bring Toddlers to the Family Table

Bring your toddler to the family table. When toddlers join the “big” table, they learn quite a bit through watching others eat and commune around the meal.

Tip #2: Feed Your Toddler the Same Food You Eat

Feed your toddler family food. No need to cook separate foods or become a short-order cook! Toddlers may eat all the foods of the family, provided you modify the texture so they can safely eat them. For example, beef for children of all ages can help meet iron, zinc and other important nutrients for growth. For a better understanding of nutrients throughout the lifespan, read this.

Tip #3: Schedule Eating Times

Transition to a predictable schedule for meals and snacks. Feeding a young child every 2-3 hours helps ensure adequate nutrition is provided throughout the day, and appetite is covered.

Tip #4: Keep Offering New Foods

Expose your toddler to a variety of different foods, even if he rejects them. Repeated exposure, or offering foods to your toddler even if he has turned them down, is a proven way to encourage food acceptance over time.

Feeding Toddlers: 9 Tips for Joyful Feeding

Tip #5: Don’t Pressure Your Toddler to Eat

Drop the pressure to eat. Pressuring a child to take another bite, or finish a meal may backfire, leading to less eating, more pickiness, and even a dislike for the food he’s being pressured to eat.

Tip #6: Use Toddler Portion Sizes

Offer toddler-sized portions of food. Little bellies need smaller amounts of food than their big siblings or parents.

Tip #7: Give Your Toddler More Independence

Loosen the reins on “helping” your toddler eat (but be present to supervise). Allow her to explore food, feed herself, and use the cup and utensils. Yes, it can be a mess. But, it’s a great way to expose all the senses to food, while embracing the independence many toddlers desire.

Tip #8: Keep a Pleasant, Upbeat Vibe

Smile and stay positive! Your toddler is learning about food… and it’s a process. Focus on what you can do: offer balanced, nutritious meals in a pleasant, upbeat environment.

Tip #9: Don’t Reward Your Toddler for Trying New Food

Avoid food rewards for eating food, taking another bite, or behaving well. It’s best not to use food as a motivator or reward as this may encourage unhealthy food preferences.

[Read: 7 Principles for Healthy Toddler Meals]

What are your favorite tips for feeding toddlers? Share in the comments below!

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