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Healthy Eating Strategies for Toddlers

Katlyn Joy |28, June 2013


Your baby's not a baby anymore so the days of spoon feeding and bottles are over. Now it's a potential melt down, battle or stand-off at each meal time. How can you get healthy foods into your toddler without the histrionics?

1. Don't go toe to toe.

Consider your toddler's independence a sign that you are succeeding at parenting. Your child is growing and part of that is discovering his ability to do things on his own. However, you are the parent and you are responsible for his wellbeing. You can do this without a fight by understanding your goals in meal time and having clear expectations and consequences for non-compliance. For instance, you must try each thing on your plate. There will be no dessert for non-eaters or poor eaters.

2. Look at your child's diet over the course of the week not meal by meal.

The reason? Kids often eat well one day, and seem to be on a religious fast the next. Toddlers are the worst offenders. They also get into food ruts. One of my children would subsist entirely on mac n cheese for the first several years of his life if left to his devices. You don't have to fight this unless the beloved food is a no-no like gummy worms. If it's something good, like say peanut butter allow it into the child's diet each day, but alongside a healthy variety of items; on apple slices, celery sticks, in oatmeal and so on.

3. Make it bite by bite, not a clean plate deal.

When you fill your child's plate, consider favorites, dislikes and fill accordingly. Tell your child she needs to try some of everything. Instruct her to take three bites of hamburger, two of peas, and so on. Reward compliance with dessert but make it a healthy dessert like fresh fruits.

4. Remember you are not a buffet restaurant.

Don't start a bad habit of offering everything in the frig and giving your child the chance to be overwhelmed with choices, and power. Your toddler should generally eat what everyone else eats.

Ways to Entice Kids to Eat

Play with your food.
Whenever possible make your toddler's food finger food. Let your child enjoy creating faces from bacon, pancakes and berries for instance. Introduce that favorite snack of ants on a log by letting your child place the ants on the log.

Call the food fun names.
It's not broccoli it's broccoli trees. It's not vanilla yogurt they are dipping apples in, it's vanilla clouds.

Use shapes and colors to make the meal or snack interesting.
You'll be surprised to see how much faster a ham and cheese sandwich disappears when it's cut with a cookie cutter into the shape of a star for instance. Think of the attractiveness of carrot slices and sweet red peppers.

Remember kids love crunch and texture.
Use a variety of textures together to draw kids into trying and liking foods. The crunch of sweet potato chips alongside a soft tuna salad tortilla is better than a plate of mushy foods.

When in doubt, give kids a dip.
Kids love dipping things, so use this heavily to entice kids into eating especially new tastes or textures.

Some easy finger food snacks for toddlers:

- Honey and peanut butter roll ups. Spread natural peanut butter onto a small tortilla and drizzle with honey. Roll up and cut into pinwheels.

- Put out a tray of veggies, maybe use an ice cube tray. Cut into varying shapes and thicknesses. Use broccoli, carrots, sweet bell peppers, and whatever else you have in the crisper. Have some ranch dressing in a little bowl for those chubby fingers to dip.

- Hummus with pretzels.

- Graham crackers smashed into vanilla yogurt or pudding.

- Baked sweet potatoes cut into squares with cheese melted on top.

- Banana chips or any other dried fruits, or a mixture. Mix in some cheerios too.

- Chicken breast cut into strips and dipped into a mild barbeque sauce.

- Healthy lunch meats such as ham or turkey torn into small squares, with squares of cheese place on club crackers.

- Raisins stuck to bananas, pears or apples with peanut butter

- Turkey bacon torn into bite sized pieces with shredded cheese.

- Baked granola broken into bars and drizzled with fruit preserves.

- Honey oatmeal muffins dusted with a touch of powdered sugar.

Katlyn Joy is a mother to 7 children, and a freelance writer. She earned her Master of Arts in Creative Writing and Poetry, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and was previously an adviser to new mothers on breastfeeding through a maternity home program. She currently resides in Colorado with her family.
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