Toddlers and two-year olds are more than ready to feed themselves. In fact, it’s important to their growing identity that they manage their own eating habits now. While adults had to be actively involved when spoon feeding an infant, that child has now learned to manage finger foods and utensils with enough fine motor control to firmly demand “I do it myself”. The tables are turned, new choices are made, and messiness ensues!
Negotiating Eating Can Backfire
So, the role of parents and teachers in this changing relationship is to offer safe and familiar foods in reasonable amounts, while encouraging the child to try new things from time to time. The trickiest thing about this new “feeding relationship” is that it is the child’s prerogative to decide “how much” he/she needs to eat to satisfy hunger. If you think about it, someone else’s eating is simply one of those things that adults have no real physical control over anyhow, much like how a child chooses for them self to swallow, to fall asleep, or to go potty. Unfortunately, some serious eating problems get started early when caregivers and parents turn mealtimes into battlegrounds and let’s-make- a-deal territories: “If you eat _____, then you can have _____.” All-of- a-sudden, food becomes a bargaining chip rather than a tasty solution to their personal hunger. Given a choice, most toddlers would rather engage in a power struggle than eat! Try to stay as matter-of- fact as possible; just set out the food. That’s your role.
Some Plates are Too Full
Sometimes adults unwittingly put too much food on a child’s plate, which can be overwhelming for a child and create resistance right off the bat. Renowned dietician and author, Ellyn Satter, reminds us that a toddler’s stomach is still quite small. Proportionately, a toddler serving is about one-quarter of an adult serving. By example, for a one-year- old or two-year- old, a portion size of rice, pasta, cereal, fruit or vegetable is only 2 tablespoons. They may eat more than that, of course, but don’t worry if they eat a lot less than you think they should. Also, a toddler’s appetite is erratic, changing from one day to the next. She eats according to how hungry she feels at the moment. She depends on parents and caregivers to offer nutritious interesting choices, at predictable meal and snack times, in a calm setting.
Boring Foods Can Sabotage Your Efforts
Lots of people fall into the habit of only serving toddlers a small selection of familiar foods, with little opportunity for the child to expand his horizons. In her classic book, Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense (www.ellynsatter.com), Ms. Satter encourages us to always offer something colorful and new, in addition to the familiar. And, even if all they do is look at it without trying it, you are giving them a chance to “get acquainted” with the new food item. Change is hard and children need time to venture into new tastes and textures. Add some enticement by your own behavior. When you model enjoyment of eating new things but without pressuring them to join you, children will typically take your cue and try it if given the opportunity; they really want to be able to do whatever grown-ups do!
Here are ten toddler lunch/snack ideas to consider adding to the roster:
- Half a sandwich: PBJ, tuna, turkey, grilled cheese, humus, cream cheese
- Hard-boiled egg or scrambled egg
- Steamed carrot sticks and broccoli trees
- Rice and beans with soft tortilla triangles
- Fresh roasted turkey or chicken slices
- Raw zucchini with cottage cheese dip
- Mashed potatoes, meatballs, and gravy
- Burrito or quesadilla
- Fruit salad with bananas, apples, mangos and berries
- Pasta salad with thawed frozen peas, red pepper strips, and cubed tofu or meat
By Lisa Poelle