We are all too familiar with toddler tantrums, especially when it comes to eating and bathing. Getting through mealtime feels like coming out triumphant at the end of your own World War III! However, if you let this continue, all you are doing is causing unnecessary stress for you and for your child.
First and foremost, it is important to understand that toddlers are at a stage where they are developing independence and want to keep expressing it. This is a large part of why they put up a fight at mealtimes. Additionally, toddlers are also exploring new tastes and making decisions about their likes and dislikes. It is an important developmental phase for them and should be handled with care and respect.
Also, remember that toddlers are grazers. They cannot eat too much in one sitting. They eat less but eat often, and that's completely okay. As long as your baby is gaining weight as he/she should, there should be no cause for panic.
That said, these techniques should give you a helping hand on how to get a child to eat when they refuse:
1. Establish a Routine
When you see your baby not eating well, there could be a list of factors at play. The first and most important thing to do is to establish a meal routine. Try your best to stick to meal times, even on weekends. In a couple of days, your baby's body will get used to this routine, and his/her digestive system will slowly begin to adapt to the changes. Bowel movements will regulate and your baby will begin to naturally get peckish when he is close to his meal times. Feeding a baby whose body is ready to receive the meal shouldn't be too hard!
It is not just your baby's body that needs to be prepared for a meal, and it is also his mind. Most of the time a toddler will resist being fed because it is interrupting an activity that he is engrossed in. So, if it's close to your toddler's mealtime, start winding up any activity that he may be preoccupied with. Give him a few reminders in a "count-down" style like this:
E.g., "Okay, Timmy, you can play with that for five more minutes, and then it's time for lunch." Three minutes later, you say, "Okay, Timmy, you have two more minutes to play with that, and then it is time for lunch." A minute later, you say, "Timmy, you have one more minute, and then it is time for lunch." When 5 minutes are up, you say, "Okay, Timmy, let's put that away so we can have lunch." And then you proceed to put the toys away together.
You may get some resistance at first, but believe me, a few meals later, you will have Timmy's complete cooperation!
Constant repetition of the phrase "…and then it is time for lunch" will help your toddler mentally prepare to make the shift from playing to eating. It is very difficult for little ones to jump from one activity to another without closure. As adults, we must respect their developmental stages and adapt our techniques to suit their mental processes.
3. Involve Them In Meal- Related Decisions
This may not always be a great idea always, but when you can, try to involve your little one in mealtime decisions. You can give him a few options and ask him what he would like to eat. He is more likely to cooperate if he has chosen his meal himself. You can even take it a step further and take your little one grocery shopping (if you can manage it) and ask her to pick out a couple of vegetables that she wants to eat through the week.
Try buying a special bowl, cup, and plate just for your little one. Make a big fuss about how it's their special stuff, and no one else is allowed to use it. Another tip to make toddler mealtime more exciting is to buy the high chair together with him. Present a few options to him and then ask him which one he likes. Do the same with other things as well as bibs, napkins, bottles, etc.
4. Eat with Your Baby
Another reason why you see a toddler not eating and playing at mealtime is that he gets the sense that the whole session for you is just a job that you need to get done. As true as it may be, eating your meal along with your baby will relax him a little, and he will be more inclined to eat without kicking up a fuss. Allow him to pick out of your plate as well. The more relaxed you are, the more relaxed your baby will be.
5. Mix It Up and Disguise It
This goes without saying, but it is nice to be reminded sometimes! Try to include a variety of foods in the week to prevent your toddler from getting bored with certain foods. If you find that they are insisting on eating the same thing every day, just go with it. Sometimes they know better than us what their bodies need.
Certain types of food don't go down as easily as others, while some kinds of food don't go down at all! Try to disguise foods that your baby doesn't like eating by adding shredded chicken, chicken broth, or cheese to your baby's meals. There aren't many children who will turn down cheese!
6. Avoid Snacks in Between Meals
Snacks in between meals can make a child lose his appetite for the meal itself. Things like chips and biscuits should be avoided as far as possible. If your child does require a snack, try a fruit, or a nice crunchy carrot.
Avoid junk food at all costs. Burgers, fries, and colas are very addictive, especially for children, and it is very easy to slip into the habit of turning to junk food every time your child refuses to eat. Once in a while, it is okay (but maybe not the cola). You can also give your child some homemade fries as a treat once a week.Now that you have these simple but proven tips on how to make toddlers eat remember that all babies are different. Strategies that work for some may not work for others. The only way to figure it out is to try and see which technique your child is responding to. It may be one thing, or it may be a combination of all six of them. You never know!Most of all, be patient and be assured that it is only a phase. Every time you find yourself at the end of your rope, just close your eyes, take a deep breath and repeat to yourself, "This too shall pass."All the best!