Dealing with toddler mealtime battles can be exhausting. One day they eat, the next they don’t, one day they like something, the next they don’t. It can be worrying and difficult to handle, leaving many parents lost as to what to do for the best and how to handle it.
I’ve been having this battle with Toddler Girl for several months now and I can’t help but feel it’s got out of control.
Toddler Girl was ok at eating but I felt that her food choices were becoming far too limited. She was living off fish fingers, chicken nuggets, veggie fingers, chicken, ham, broccoli, carrots, tinned pasta, cheese, ham, yoghurts and bananas. She would sometimes have savoury rice too. When I look back it doesn’t sound too bad but I really wanted to expand her taste buds and encourage her to try new things so I stopped giving her the choice and just gave her what we were eating or made her different things and unfortunately this is where the battle probably started.
I would put thing down like shepherds pie, sausage casserole, fish pie, salmon and veg, pasta bolognaise, macaroni cheese, scrambled eggs, baked beans, omelets and she would just refuse to eat it.
I would then say “well if you don’t eat your main meal there’s no dessert and nothing else”. I thought by doing this I would eventually encourage her to broaden her taste buds. However it just created more of a battle. It was at this point that even the foods that she previously ate she stopped eating.
I stuck to my guns however and still gave no pudding and on so many occasions she would go to bed having eaten very little.
It worried me sick but people kept telling me that she wouldn’t starve herself and to stick with it. I hoped she would just turn a corner but I have to admit that it is still happening. The other night for example, she asked for chicken nuggets, veg and waffles, so I made it for her and then she just took a few mouthfuls and pushed the plate away. This was not only frustrating because she had asked for it, but because we had baked and she had a lovely treat waiting for her in the kitchen. This was the second time in the last couple of weeks that we had baked and she had refused to eat her food, even though she had been told each time that she could have one of her baked goodies after her tea if she ate it. You would think most children would really want the treat and therefore at least attempt to eat but not Toddler Girl, she seems to shoot herself in the foot constantly and just not care.
I’ve gone through periods of frustration, begging her to eat, negotiating with her and feeling angry.
I got told by a friend of mine that she had read a book that said you should still give a dessert and just not make an issue, which I started to do and even then she just left the main course and ate the dessert, which frustrated me and I reverted back to not giving dessert.
However after an incident at nursery where she refused to sit down at the table and gagged on the food when she finally did, both myself and the staff knew we had to really try to turn things around.
The nursery team knew I had really tried and they were so supportive in trying to help me and did some research themselves to share with me. Some of the points raised included:
- Don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or to clear his plate. This might only ignite or reinforce a power struggle over food. In addition your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration.
- Serve small potions to avoid overwhelming them and to give them the best chance of clearing their plate.
- Eat as a family to lead by example.
- If you focus on what they don’t eat instead of what they do eat you are highlighting the problem so keep mealtimes relaxed, don’t do this and chat about other things.
- Serve meals and snacks at the same time each day. Avoid sweet snacks.
- Provide juice or milk with food and offer water between meals as otherwise they could fill up on juice and milk during the say which might decrease their appetite.
- Don’t worry if your child turns their nose up or refuses a certain new food, it can take several attempts before they may take their first bite of something new. Serve new foods with favourite foods.
- Avoid talking about taste and more colour, smell etc.
- Make mealtimes fun by cutting food into shapes or serving vegetables with dips or sauces. Brightly coloured foods can also make mealtimes appear more fun.
- Encourage your child to help with food shopping and food preparation.
- Make mealtimes social, eat together, turn of televisions and other gadgets.
- Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may increase your child’s desire for sweets so try not to do this.
- Select one or two nights a week as dessert nights and skip dessert the rest of the week or substitute with fruit.
- Change dessert to fruit, yoghurt or other healthy choices.
- Encourage your child to stay at the table for the whole mealtime, even if they aren’t eating.
- Don’t prepare additional meals if they reject the first as this can promote picky eating.
I think these are all really valid points. My little girl only drinks water, she doesn’t like juice or other drinks so I know she’s not filling up on juice. I do offer snacks but they tend to be small as I do think she has a small appetite and can fill up easily. It’s made me realise I perhaps have to make her portions smaller too as she could be overwhelmed by what’s on her plate.
We eat as a family when we can or at least all sit round the table and I do make her stay at the table for the duration of mealtimes, which she tends to do without too much of a fight. I also turn the television off during mealtimes as this was distracting her. I have only really ever offered healthy desserts, such as fruit pots, yoghurts and things like banana and custard. I have also tried to encourage her to get involved in preparing food with me too (although admittedly not all the time). So I am happy in the knowledge that I already do a lot of the key points.
However I know I have fallen into the trap of the biggest fail, in bribing her to eat in promise of a dessert or treat and focussing on what she doesn’t eat, as well as withholding desserts. I know I have a bit of work to do as these really are important areas and it’s likely it has had more of a negative impact than what I realised, but I’m hoping I can turn it around and we can get back on track. It’s so easy to fall into these traps. I genuinely thought I was doing right and had been told by others that I was. However I can now see that while it may work for some this may not necessarily be the best option overall. So as of this week I am starting a fresh and adapting my approach.
Do you have toddler mealtime battles? Have you been through this and come out the other side? I’d love to hear your views and tips.