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Toddler Food Fights
Photo: Juriah Mosin
“He won’t eat,” declared the exasperated mother. “Daddy makes him eat and makes him go to bed, but he won’t do it for me.” My client was expressing her frustration with trying to feed her two-year-old child. She was also having problems with getting him to bed. When I questioned her further, it became apparent that this young mother never actually ate at the same time with her child, fed him while he charged around the house, and gave him the decisions about what to eat. I offered her a few suggestions:

1. Create some routines for mealtime. These are behavior signals packed with meaning for the child. “Let’s wash hands,” can be a starter for a meal experience, followed by a special bib. Perhaps this is the perfect time to feed the dog or the cat as an introduction to the toddler’s mealtime also. Even little ones learn to like offering their own prayer at their seat if they have heard others pray at mealtime. 

2. Create an environment conducive for relaxing and enjoying a meal. In other words, shift gears. Turn off the TV and perhaps turn on some quiet music. Avoid talking on the phone or texting messages during mealtimes with the toddler. 

3. Create an eating place. Select a special placemat, colorful bowl, plate and cup that are only used for meals. Toddlers are extremely busy with motor activity and using their muscles—they may need to be captured for a meal. This space also includes a high chair with a safety belt at the table. Create the menu. Toddlers are not the best people to decide what to eat for a meal. This is the time when they should be learning to experiment with flavors, textures and smells of whole foods. However, he/she is not too young to be present in the garden or kitchen learning to help in small ways while you prepare food. 

4. Serving size is not the most important issue. Anxiety about finishing food or “getting enough” is an energy that can fill the dining room but not little tummies. Try not to worry too much about amounts as long as he/she tries different foods. Educate yourself on serving sizes by looking up “serving sizes for toddlers,” on the Internet or consulting a local nutritionist. Basically we’re talking about several tablespoons of many items, one-half egg, half a slice of bread, a quarter cup of cereal, etc. 

5. Be the role model. Let your child see you eating also. Even if you wait to eat with a spouse after the child’s bedtime, plan on a small snack with your child. At age two, he/she is usually capable of hand feeding or using a small spoon thereby freeing you so you can talk about the yummy food while you both eat. And get help for your own unresolved food issues. Many people use food as an emotional soother or reward rather than nutrition. Work on your own health as the best role model for your child. You may need a combination of a counselor, nutritionist, and cooking classes to help you enjoy nourishing yourself and your family. 

6. Watch for signals when he/she is full. Toddlerhood is a very active age, so his/her attention span for a meal may be pretty short. If he can’t talk much yet, he may try to stand or push the table away. Listen for “full” or “done.”  Mealtime may not be the best time to insist on teaching manners to a two-year-old with expectations for “May I be excused,” or waiting until Mom or Dad says the meal is over. If older children are also present at the table, the toddler may want to follow them if they are rushing to leave the table. 

7. Pick your food battles carefully. This sets the stage for a lifetime of enjoyment or painful issues around nourishment. We are all aware of the current plague of obese children with shortened lifespan projections. Remember, Jesus, The Bread of Life, is eager to help you with patience and wisdom as you feed your child.

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By Karen Spruill, M.A. Copyright © 2010 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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