If you have a child over the age of 2, chances are you've experienced toddler food wars. If you have a bitty baby, gear up. It's about to get crazy.
Feeding a toddler is a bit like feeding a bear: get too close & it could be dangerous for all of you. Yet, such a primal need must be handled with care. I've found that nothing stresses out parents more than attempting to feed your child. Why is feeding your child so stress inducing? Maybe it's because we know we need food to sustain us. Maybe it's because there's so much judgement when it comes to eating and it starts right away. Before you even have your baby the inquisition begins: Are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed? Are you going to make your own baby food? Oh, you didn't get the organic strawberries? (insert look of fear & trepidation) Bottom line is feeding your child(ren) is stressful to some degree. Add a toddler to that mix & it becomes mayhem.
It's about control.
Toddlers like to control their environment & the people in it. They have this sudden new awareness of life & how the world works. They want to take part. They also want to be in charge. They decide what toys they will & won't play with. They decide when & where they want to be picked up/put down/unstrapped, etc. They let you know what pleases them by playing peacefully & they let you know what sets them off by screaming like a banshee. No news is good news for a toddler- unless, of course, they are out of sight which means you should sprint to their location without hesitation because they are definitely into something they shouldn't be. The biggest thing a toddler can control is what goes in & out of his mouth.
Your baby eats all of the delectable baby food Gerber has to offer. Peas & squash mixed with apricots? Yum. Spinach & blueberry puree? Heavenly. All is right with the world. You make the transition from bottle to sippy cup, no problem. Your baby has mastered the pincher grasp & is in the early stages of self-feeding. You are parent of the year, no doubt. And then the food strike occurs.
Suddenly your adorable little bundle won't eat anything- A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Food starts to go flying, no's are being screamed, milk is dumped on the ground. Your kitchen looks like a bomb went off & then the tears start: "He won't eat anything! I don't know what I'm doing wrong, he used to love salad. Now, he just throws his bowl. He won't even eat cheese. He MUST have protein or he's not going to grow!" And on, and on, and on.
Sound familiar? Oh, I've been there many, many times. I've scrubbed down every surface of my kitchen after every meal. I've sat & made an 18 m/o pick up every bit of food that he threw- hand over hand, both of us crying the whole time. One day it dawned on me: I'm done with the food wars. Meals are a necessary means & I'm tired of WWIII. It took me 4 kids & 8 years, but I think I've come up with 7 strategies to make meal time more peaceful.
7 Strategies to Winning the Food Wars
*** these can apply to older kids as well, not just the 3 & under crowd
1. No Grazing
Make meal time, meal time & snack time, snack time. My boys will eat all day if I let them, but when it comes time for dinner no one is hungry. So, I started limiting them to a designated snacking period of time. For example, we usually eat dinner around 6:30. I cut off snacks by 5:00 so everyone has time to digest a little of their snack & are generally hungry by dinner. OR if I do offer snacks after 5:00, it's something that I don't mind them filling up on- like fruits or veggies.
2. Stay in Your Seat
This goes along with no grazing. You must remain seated during your meal or snack. This solves a couple of problems. One, food stays in the kitchen versus being all over your house. Two, it reduces the choking hazard of nose diving into the sofa with a mouth full of goldfish crackers. And three, it trains your child to stay in his seat during restaurant visits, therefore, making your meal more pleasant for all of you & avoiding those judgy stares from the childless people around you who do not appreciate your adorable 2 y/o bellying up to their chocolate cake.
3. Let Your Child Self-feed
Now, I know letting your 18 m/o feed herself applesauce causes the 2nd biggest mess possible- 2nd only to the child who decides to log-roll mid poopy diaper change. A child who feeds herself is a child more likely to eat. If you think about, it makes sense. Aren't you more likely to try something new if you can control it? I'm pretty sure most of us would balk at a giant person shoving a spoon in our mouths. It's worth the cleanup if she'll eat her yogurt.
4. Limit Milk
According to my pediatrician, toddlers need 12-16 ounces of milk a day- significantly less than what went in their bottles. If your child loves milk & is drinking way more than that, he may just be too full to eat his dinner. Milk is great for little, growing bones but is no longer the primary source of nutrition for your child. Moderation may go a long way for your little one.
5. Find One Thing He'll Eat
If you know your child will always eat bananas, try to offer that during meal time along with whatever you made for the rest of your family. That way you know there will be one thing on your child's plate that he'll eat. Are green beans a favorite? Add it to your dinner. You'll both leave the table happy that at least something nutritious went into your child's mouth. Try not to get into the habit of making your toddler his own meal (or your big kids too!). Your child will never try anything new if he's not exposed to it, AND you'll make yourself crazy trying to cook for everyone! You can't please everybody all the time.
6. Get Creative
Your child might (I said might!) be more likely to eat if the food looks fun. Open up that Pinterest account & find something fun & easy (emphasis on the word easy!). Is your child not a milk drinker? Try chocolate milk- it's STILL MILK, calm down. I could feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up as your read that. It's true. My son hated milk. My doctor suggested we try chocolate or strawberry milk instead. He started to drink it & we slowly phased it out. Now, he's a regular milk drinker though he does have an insatiable sweet tooth...hhmmm.... Bottom line? Think outside the box a little, it might work for you!
7. Listen to Your Momma
I'm afraid it's true: Your child will eat when he's hungry enough. Until then, I recommend a good Flintstone vitamin.
Hope you find these tips helpful! I wish you peaceful meals & easy clean-up. A girl can dream :)
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Want to share your mealtime masterpieces? I'd love to share ideas that work! Leave them in the comments below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org