Ever since Rhys discovered his independence at around his first birthday, feeding him has sometimes been a fight and a hassle. Sometimes he’d rather play, or eat something different, or claim he’s not hungry at all (which may or may not be true). At the beginning of this rebellious stage, it got so bad that Rhys would take a bite or two of any meal, then go on a hunger strike until he was left alone. It would frustrate me so much–he was still skinnier and smaller than other kids, and I was an over-anxious first-time mom. However, as he’s grown older, he’s gotten much better about eating, and is quite average with weight and is taller than a lot of kids his age, but there are still some days (most days) that I have to incline him to eat. But, I have gotten quite a few tricks on how to help a toddler eat!
Use a Distraction
Sometimes, toddlers will be more willing to eat if they are distracted–they won’t really be paying attention to what goes in their mouth. We have allowed Rhys to play with toys plenty of times while eating a meal. True, it means we have to feed him, but it works. Building blocks are great, puzzle toys are wonderful, even cooking supplies easily distract.
Yes. I let my toddler watch TV when he eats. Rhys and I have lunch on the couch every day because we also nap on the couch. I set up a TV tray (which he loves, because he feels like such a big boy), and give him finger foods. About 90% of the time, he’ll clean his entire plate while watching Nick Junior.
However, with breakfast and dinner, we try to always eat at the table as a family. So, when we need a little extra help to get Rhys to eat, we pull out our phones or laptop and let him watch videos. This way, he’s still distracted enough to eat, but at the table with the family.
Sometimes Rhys doesn’t want to be strapped into his booster seat. So, I let him sit in a normal chair and his attitude changes. Or, if I plop him on my lap, he’ll eat off his plate while I eat off mine. However, there have been a few times where he just can’t sit still. So, we let him run and play, and pull him over for a bite every now and then, which works just fine.
Include Some “Yummy” Food In Each Bite
There was a time that Rhys wouldn’t eat his baby oatmeal for breakfast. But, if I put on small pieces of fruit on each spoonful, he was more than willing to eat it. The same still applies today: if there is a part of his meal that he isn’t too happy about, I put some of it with the part of his meal that he does like. For instance, he’s not the biggest fan of potatoes, but loves chicken. So, a piece of chicken goes on the same spoonful as the mashed potatoes. We also use the switch method. Rhys can have a bite of fruit after they take a bite of the healthy part.
Sometimes, Rhys exhibits bad behavior when he is refusing to eat. He’ll scream, or throw his food, or spit it out on the floor, or hit us. So, we tell him to go to time-out for a minute or two. Now, we are very lucky. Rhys is such a good, smart boy when it comes to time-out. He’ll cry and fuss the whole time, but he will go on his own to the time-out chair and sit there until we get him. Remember, though, for toddlers, it’s one minute per year of age in time-out. So, after two minutes, we go over, tell him what he did wrong, in a calm voice, give him a hug, and ask him if he will finish his dinner. Typically, he’ll nod his head and typically, he’ll eat the rest of his dinner…typically.
We’ve all seen the stereotypical, “here comes the airplane/choo-choo train”. Well, it works even more two year olds. But, we have to make it animated. Sometimes, we’ll even ask Rhys, “how does a dinosaur/lion/monster/dragon/alligator eat?” And he’ll take a big chomping bite.
Playing with Food
I remember reading somewhere that when babies and toddlers play with food, they are actually learning. Although it makes a mess, sometimes I’ll let Rhys play with his food because he is more willing to put it in his mouth if he can stack it, rip it, squish it, etc.
Bribery works very well with Rhys–“if you want to go swimming, you have to take 3 more bites.” “Do you want me to turn off Daniel Tiger? Then take another drink of milk.” “You can have some M&Ms if you take a bite.” We always make sure to follow through. If it’s taking something away, we give it back once Rhys takes a bite.
If all else fails, use Cheerios
Sometimes, nothing works. So, as much as I hate it, I’ll just give Rhys some Cheerios or other cereal. I don’t make separate meals for Rhys. I believe that even from a young age, children should eat what the rest of the family eats and should be exposed to all kinds of foods. Rhys is not picky. There are hardly any foods that he doesn’t like. But, when he doesn’t want to eat, that’s a different story. So, after exhausting all other tricks, sometimes I resort to Cheerios. And then, if he still doesn’t want to eat, then, I’m done trying to get him to eat. He won’t starve.
What other tips or tricks do you use to get your toddlers to eat?