Hello parents of toddlers! So, I write this blog with a little bit of caution. Obviously I know what to do professionally but.... I myself don't have a toddler yet. What I plan on doing with this post is giving you the tools you need to set up a healthy diet for your child and some tips and tricks for picky eaters. Even though I don't have a toddler of my own yet, I have used these techniques on kids and they've worked. If you go through this post and still feel like nothing you're doing is working feel free to email you and I can help coach you through some other ideas.
Lets start with a couple of really good resources you can use. MyPlate is a great site that's full of meal plans, recipes, and health related info for everyone from preschoolers to adults, click here to check out their site. Another really great website is Kids Eat Right. This is a joint initiative with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). They definitely know what they're talking about and it's a great site to go for when you're not sure what to do in the kitchen for any of your kids from babies to teens, click here to visit their site.
So what should a toddler's diet look like? Every day your toddler should eat veggies, fruits, whole grains, proteins, and dairy products. If you're vegan and avoid dairy that's okay... just look for other foods that are high in calcium (like broccoli or kale) so you can help those bones grow nice and strong. When it comes to your fruits and veggies choose a variety of colors, you can even try to have some fun with it by making a game of saying the names of the colors and of the foods.
Kids should learn to listen to their bodies' signals. Forcing your kids to finish all their food could teach them to overeat. Instead, give them small servings of a few different foods. If they finish, they can always ask for more. Starting with small servings and not forcing your kids to finish could help them a lot later in life. Speaking of starting good habits now, encourage them to drink water. Make water the first choice at meal times... if your child refuses to drink water add a little juice to give it some flavor. You can even freeze juice in ice cube trays and add the cubes to the water. Just remember, overall it's best to limit juice to 4-6 ounces a day.
Eating healthy is key for the right kind of growth and development. However, there's a thin line that you have to be careful with.... forbidding sweets and treats might make them more attractive to your child. I'm totally a toddler in this regards, the second I tell myself I can't have something it's all I want. The best thing to do is to not purchase junk food on a regular basis and limit your trips to fast food restaurants. I'm not saying never... but I am saying not often. On that note, try not to use food as a reward (this one is hard, I know). Use praise, hugs, special activities, stickers or quality time instead. I promise you this is a pattern that is hard to break later in life. It's better to just not start it at all.
Now lets shift our attention to picky eaters. Most toddlers are picky eaters, it's just a fact of life. I think it's a stage where they're really trying to push every boundary and give their parents a few more gray hairs. Stay strong!! The Academy of Pediatrics conducted a study of toddlers. The study found that the average toddler might need to see a new food on their plate TEN times before they will eat it! TEN TIMES. Don't give up. Encourage them to try new foods, but don't force them. I've found that sometimes kids just need to play with their food a little first, then eventually they'll put it in their mouths. This works best when there's no pressure involved. For example, give them a piece of banana and let them hold it in their hands and squish it and do whatever their little toddler heart desires with it. If they end up putting it in their mouth, great! If not, that's okay. Try again another day. Sometimes it's a texture thing... try softening, or partially mashing things that they're refusing to eat. Other times it can be a temperature thing... sometimes very young children just prefer things (even milk) at room temperature. A change in texture or temperature might change their minds.
Here's some basic guidelines for picky eaters...
Include Them: Children are more likely to eat something they've helped made. Take them shopping with you and teach them how to find and select foods. Try using the color game I mentioned earlier.
Let Them Make Choices Too: Offer a choice between two healthy items and let them decide which one they want to eat. Simple choices can help your toddler feel in control (fun, little trick huh?)
Set Goals: Start off with the small and simple goal of one bite.
Don't Give Up!: It takes the average toddler 10 times of being offered something before they'll try it.
Offer Praise: For a picky eater, even one bite should be celebrated.
Be Patient: Some kids just need a little more time with new foods and that is 100% okay.
Hopefully you found this helpful. I feel like I'll have to read this blog once my baby hits the toddler age and see how crazy all of it sounds. If you have more in-depth questions about your child's diet or need other suggestions please, please, please... email me! I'd be more than happy to help out.
Until next time!