Feeding toddlers is hard work. They can be picky eaters, or throw tantrums every now and then, and they don’t care much for nutrition. Our son is a very sweet 2-year-old, but when it’s time to eat, we deal with serious issues on a daily basis.
This isn’t news to us, though, ever since he was a newborn we’ve had feeding issues. It’s been a frustrating journey, and sometimes, no matter what we try he just won’t eat.
However, we found out that correcting bad habits has helped him more often than not. I’m sharing the top mistakes we (and most new parents) make when it comes to feeding toddlers.
#1 Mistake when Feeding Toddlers: Not Having a Schedule
It was a rookie mistake.
But we were desperate, as are many parents when feeding toddlers. Our son was born at 31 weeks with low birth weight due to Intrauterine Growth Restriction (IUGR). So, putting on weight is crucial for his development. He weighs 9.5 kg (21 lbs) as a 2-year-old, and he wears 12-18 month-old clothes.
So feeding him is a priority, and every time he misses a meal there’s a lot of pressure on him not to lose weight.
At first, we fed him no matter what. If he didn’t eat lunch and wanted a snack 30 minutes later, he’d have it. As long as he put on weight, it was acceptable to us.
That is until our pediatrician suggested otherwise. In the long run, he could have been gaining more weight by having balanced meals. It’s obvious, but, again, within our desperation, we just wanted him to eat.
Setting up a schedule was difficult because we had t0 break a paradigm. There would be days when our son doesn’t eat at all, and that’s OK. Because by setting up a schedule we set up the habit of eating every 3 hours and eating balanced meals.
That means we make the most of the times he does eat.
He now eats at least twice as much as he used to eat 6 months ago, and he gets hungry on the clock!
#2 Mistake when Feeding Toddlers: Not having a Meal Plan to Follow
True. We don’t plan each meal by the book, but we do a weekly general plan of what we are having for lunch. Thus, we avoid junk food and last-minute lunches.
Feeding toddlers is, sometimes, an unpredictable job. So we are open to any impromptu situations, but we generally stick to it.
Having a meal plan has many benefits. By following it you’ll save budget, you’ll be providing healthy, balanced, homemade food, and your toddler will know what to expect.
Habits can make us or break us. And predictability is crucial for early child development. We try to make our meal plan similar week by week and add at least one of our son’s favorite foods per day.
We have also given him a more active role when we go shopping. He loves putting stuff in the shopping cart, and, at first, he did it just for fun. But, little by little, we taught him the concept of actually buying the food we were soon going to eat.
His choices may not be the healthiest, or the more balanced, but it’s limited to once per day, and it guarantees that he eats well.
#3 Mistake when Feeding Toddlers: Not Establishing a Meal Time Routine
All of the mistakes I’ve been talking about are part of one and the same: Establishing a healthy eating routine.
We work from home, and it can get really messy sometimes.
I am a bit ashamed to admit that we have given our son lunch sitting in front of the computer, rushing some work as we do so. And that used to be the norm.
A few months ago, we had adapted all except the actual eating-time routine. It was just really difficult to fit into our schedules, especially at lunch.
Then, one day, our toddler got so distracted watching daddy work while he fed him that we knew we had to change.
We force-fixed our working routine around a healthy, happy lunchtime where everyone sat down to eat. And we don’t regret it one bit.
Oliver gets always the same spot on his high chair, between mommy and daddy, and he sometimes asks for food from our plates. We make mealtime a happy time.
And it has made all the difference in the world.
#4 Mistake when Feeding Toddlers: Using the tablet
In our desperation that our preemie eats, we have caved into letting him use the tablet while doing so.
After all, our main goal is that he eats, and we thought the means justified the end.
Yes, but not quite. Using the tablet worked at first, but later he became really distracted or didn’t eat without an immediate reward.
By the time we realized the mistake we’d made, we were in too deep. So we had to go cold turkey.
It was a very difficult week, but after it passed, it was like the tablet never existed in the first place. Our boy could finally focus on his food.
This, of course, had to be example-driven, so we took the opportunity to get rid of another mistake we were making.
We turned off our cell phones.
No social media, no calls unless really urgent, no internet, no nothing. Like we used to eat back in the 90s!
Toddlers don’t understand the concept of a parent on social media, but they do understand that the parents aren’t paying attention to them. And children will do a lot to get their parents’ attention. Including throwing food off the plate, for instance.
#5 Mistake when Feeding Toddlers: Not Having Controlled Choices
There was a point, when we were desperate, that we gave our son whatever he’d eat. We then overcorrected by trying to force-feed him the one meal we had made.
But that didn’t work out well either, so we had to figure out that sweet spot between one and the other. and we found it by limiting our son’s choices.
Since there are three of us, we each can choose one item on our plate between 2 options from the meal plan. So when I ask my son “Would you like pasta or rice?” And he answers me “Rice” he’s both taking a more active part in our nutrition, and making a small commitment.
We are all eating whatever he chooses to be his item, so he better eat it as well.
It takes a lot of explaining and repeating it once and again, and the choices need to be really controlled, to avoid him getting paralyzed by the number of options available. But, after a few days, we all got the hang of it. And it has improved both the quality of our mealtime and the amount of food that our son eats.
That’s a wrap
All in all, I get it, I live it.
When a toddler doesn’t eat, mom and dad get desperate. And in our case, that desperation has led to bad habits that are difficult to admit.
We are still correcting some of them, but we have managed to turn out a non-existent mealtime routine into a healthy, happy time for everybody.
And, more importantly, our son is eating a great deal more than he was before we started correcting our mistakes.
Did you kick off a bad habit when feeding your toddler? Tell us all about it in the comment section!