Just recently, I felt like three to five times a day I was going into battle. The Toddler Food Battle. A battle of wills over the dining table. It started with forced smiles and over exaggerated excitement about delicious morsels of carefully prepared kid friendly food. It moved on to games and songs and tricks. It disintegrated into frustration and, yes, sometimes tears, as the food inevitably ended up on the floor. More often than not, it ended with one toddler waving his trophy above his head – the much coveted banana.
I have to confess during that time I was so busy with the DOING (the planning, buying, cooking serving, cleaning up) that before I knew it Rocky was almost exclusively eating two foods: banana and yoghurt. I was so concerned with filling his tummy before bed time or naps that I just gave him whatever he wanted. Of course this never actually helped him to sleep!
I could write about how I felt like a failure of a parent, but you know what? I’m not buying into that crap anymore. I was doing my best at the time. But it wasn’t working and it was time to reevaluate. I turned to my one of my favourite sources of advice – the child health nurse hotline.
I was a bit overwhelmed by the advice from the child health nurse that answered the phone that day (bless her, they are all angels, I love them dearly). She suggested good old fashioned grit:
- Offer the food.
- If rejected, offer the food again.
- If rejected, too bad, so sad, no food for you. Repeat at each meal.
Apparently it wouldn’t take long for the toddler to get the idea and start eating what he was offered the first time.
The only thing was that this advice pushed my freak-out-o-meter off the chart. It’s just not my style. I didn’t want to fight anymore, I wanted our dinner table and attitude towards food to be relaxed, for meal times to be happy. So I turned to my old friend, the internet. Other parenting bloggers and Octavia and Vicky readers on Facebook and Instagram had lots of advice for me that was so valuable. Above all the one thing that I heard loud and clear was ME TOO! I’VE BEEN THERE TOO! YOU’RE NOT ALONE! And that was like a big warm hug.
Advice for A Gentle Approach to Toddlers and Food
- Let go of the guilt. If they’re eating healthy food, don’t worry so much about what that food is. Build meals based on what they do like to eat – Kate from Picklebums
- Don’t let others push you into something you’re not comfortable doing. Keep offering a variety and don’t make a big deal out of food – Sarah from We Live We Learn
- Keep offering a range of foods, ones they like as well new foods, never worry about what they do or don’t eat – Kate from Peaceful Parents, Confident Kids
- If one child is a tricky eater and will only eat certain foods, offer those same foods to the whole family, so it doesn’t seem like they’re getting a special meal – Kate from An Everyday Story
- Do what you’re comfortable with, try it for a few days or a week and if it’s not working think it over again. Smoothies, veggie muffins and frittatas are great ways to get veggies into kids – Bekka from Just for Daisy
- Don’t blame yourself, many children are picky eaters. Don’t expect things to change overnight and find the small wins every day – Kate from Laughing Kids Learn
- Eat dinners as a family, serving everyone the same foods and ask only that they try each food – a try might just mean ‘lick’. Make sure they have enough foods that they enjoy eating on the plate too. Encourage them to describe the taste and texture, rather than focusing on how much they’ve eaten. I often strategically serve the veggies first as they taste better when they’re hot, then serve the meat/carbs after a minute or two – Danya from Danya Banya
- If something doesn’t feel right try visiting a naturopath or chiropractor for advice and support – Chelsea from Moments A Day
- Consider whether your child may have some sensory issues that might be impacting on meal times. Check out these strategies for encouraging sensory processing disorder toddlers to eat – Jodie from Mummy Musings and Mayhem
- Try talking with a dietician, just for your own peace of mind. In some areas this service is offered for free – Nichole from you clever monkey
- Focus on lunch instead of dinner – if they eat a good lunch don’t stress so much about what they eat at dinner time. Kids are often tired at dinner time and less likely to want to eat – Jackie from My Little Bookcase
- It’s your job to provide healthy food for your child. It’s their job to eat it. i.e. try not to stress, don’t argue with them or make it a battle, provide them with the food at mealtimes and let them eat it or not. They won’t starve themselves – Sara from Happiness is Here
- We follow a gentle approach with our son. We make sure he’s getting a balanced diet and ask that he tries all the foods put in front of him, but he doesn’t have to eat it all if he doesn’t like it. It’s has been a slow and sometimes stressful road but mealtimes are now pleasant instead of battles, he calmly tries new foods and his tastes are broadening – Ness from One Perfect Day
Making small, slow changes – and relaxing about food
So where are we at now with Rocky’s eating? We offer him a range of foods that he likes, alongside some new foods. I don’t make a big deal out of whether he eats or not. If he stops eating or starts throwing his food then that’s the end of the meal time and we try again next time. We feed him small, regular meals, to keep him hungry. Now he’s eating toast! He’s eating crackers! He’s eating meat! He’s eating lasagna! And yes, he’s still eating his favourite bananas and yoghurt. Just a lot less of them.
More on toddlers and food
These articles and blogs were also really helpful to me and recommended by readers and friends. I hope you find them helpful too.
- Secrets to Enjoying Healthy Meals with Our Children
- Stuff Your Worries, Not Your Toddler
- Dodging a Toddler Food Fight
- Your Kids Table
- End Meal Time Battles Forever With These Five Simple Words (thanks Nina!)
- Tips for Helping Children Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food
- From Fusspot to Foodie
- It’s Not About Nutrition