5 tips for feeding toddlers
I will admit it has been a few years since I have fed my own toddler, but as a pediatric dietitian I am still directly involved with educating families about feeding toddlers. As a mother and as a professional I advocate for the philosophy of using the Division of Responsibility by feeding expert Ellyn Satter. It simply states that parents are responsible for the what, when, and where of feeding and the child is responsible for how much they are going to eat and whether they are going to eat. Since I have many friends that have asked questions about feeding their toddlers I am going to share my top 5 tips for helping to put the Division of Responsibility into practice for your family.
#1- Eat meals family style. Toddlers are not too young to help serve the food, pass the dishes, and sit with the family at the table. Once I changed to serving family style meals and encouraged everyone to have a role in serving themselves I realized that many times they typically would eat what they took and were able to follow hunger cues better. Younger children will need to be assisted, but include them with statements like “How many apple slices would you like?”, “If you would like potatoes can you take your spoon and serve how many you want.”, or “We are going to build a taco together. Can you tell me what you would like on it?”.
#2- Do not hide vegetables. For some kids it is easy to “hide” vegetables in foods and the kids will eat it and a parent feels accomplished by that, but the child does not know that they are eating the vegetable because it is hidden. It is fine to have spinach in a smoothie, but include the child in making the smoothie. Have them touch the spinach leaves prior to blending, let them see you put the spinach in and hit the button to blend, or make statements like “Mommy is eating her spinach in a salad, but you like your spinach in your drink. We all can eat foods in different ways.”
#3- Continue to expose your toddler to different foods even if they refused the first time. This does not mean that you force feed them. Always offer foods from all foods group, but do not force them to eat it or taste it if they seem apprehensive. Rather ask if they would like to touch the food, place it on their plate, or touch their lips to it without the expectation of eating it.
#4- Relax at meals. Toddlers will sense if parents are nervous about something, especially eating. It is typical for toddlers to have variable eating patterns where they will eat really well one day and not so well the next day. They may want 3 servings of fruit and milk for one meal and then the next day eat food from all food groups, but in the end it will be balanced if you look at it over a period of time rather than 1 meal.
#5- Try and figure out how to deconstruct the food you are having for your toddler. Some examples of this would be rather than serving stir fry all mixed together see if your toddler would be more likely to eat it if the rice, vegetables, and meat were served separately. I recall when my kids were toddlers and we had chili I strained the liquid off and served beans, fruit, and cornbread and they did well with it. Refer to my post entitled “How to build a dinner” https://amyreednutrition.wordpress.com/2017/06/21/how-to-build-a-dinner/.
Since my goal is not only to provide you with my tips for feeding toddlers, but also provide other trusted resources, I am including links to Ellyn Satter about the Division of Responsibility and to the Lean Green Bean toddler meal ideas.
Division of Responsibility
Toddler Meal Ideas