Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. Not a parent exists that hasn’t worried about their toddlers eating habits at one time or another. Some worry their toddlers aren’t eating enough, others worry that their toddlers are eating too much, and still others worry that their toddlers aren’t eating a wide enough variety of different foods.
The good news is that if you do things right, you can set your toddler on a path to good eating indefinitely.
How do you do it?
First and foremost, know that when it comes to eating most toddlers are just learning about food, and just starting to develop habits. You don’t want to force food on your toddler at any time, or suggest that they clean their plate or take just one last bite of anything.
Why? This may set them up for a lifetime of food struggles.
Rather, the best way to support good eating habits is to have available at all times a variety of healthy foods in your home. Generally, as long as toddlers eat one or two items from each food group within a 2-3 day time frame, they are doing well.
Here are some other things you can do to encourage healthy eating habits:
Eat as a Family – This may not be possible every day of the week, but at least 1-2 days per week you should encourage your family to gather together around the table for a good, wholesome meal. Include lots of different foods that are healthy and nutritious. Toddlers learn by example, and watching other family members eat and interact in an inviting environment will encourage your toddler to do the same as time goes on.
Don’t Require Your Toddler to Clean His Plate – This is a common well-intentioned mistake some parents make. Toddlers eating habits are peculiar, but they do know when they are hungry. Forcing them to finish food they can’t or won’t eat will only result in power struggles and potential problems with food later in life.
Keep the Refrigerator Stocked with Healthy Snacks – If you don’t have dozens of cookies laying about the house your toddler will be less likely to eat them. That said to allow your toddler some sweet treats when they are visiting relatives or a friend’s house. Just remember to keep sweets to a minimum at your house.
Cook a Variety of Foods – If you normally cook fish twice a week, your child will become accustomed to it as part of their routine.
No Snacks Before Meals - Try to avoid giving snacks to your child 1-2 hours before their actual meal. Cultivate the habit of telling them that snacks can be given to them when they finish their meals. This also avoids filling up their stomach with snacks and cannot finish their meals.
It will be much easier to convince your toddler to try new things if they are an ordinary part of your diet, then if out of the blue you decide to try new foods that are unusual or generally unappealing.
As your toddler grows and develops they will eventually develop more routine eating habits. In the meantime simply providing healthy alternatives and variety in their diet is a great way to jump start a healthy diet.