Do you have a picky eater? Not exactly a sleep-related topic but one that comes up often with my clients. Sleep and nutrition are both important factors in our children’s health. So, I thought it might be nice to take a little break from writing about sleep and address another parental hot-button issue.
Food battles with toddlers are just as tough as bedtime battles.
Just imagine… you’ve made a nice, healthy breakfast for your toddler. They sit down in front of it, make a face, and tell you they’re not hungry. You try to encourage them to try just a little bit, but are met with more refusal. Now, both of you start to get a little frustrated, one of you ends up in tears.
Do you eventually break down and offer them whatever they’re willing to eat so that they eat something? Or do you stick to your guns, refuse to offer Goldfish for breakfast and face the fear of your toddler becoming hangry?
You don’t want your child to go hungry but you also don’t want to keep giving in and letting them only eat foods that have little to no nutritional value. It’s a no-win situation!
Here are a few tips on how to deal with a picky eater that have worked for me and a whole lot of the families I’ve worked with.
1. Know Your Role
We can’t force our children to eat. Even though we are the authority figure in this power dynamic, we can’t physically make our children eat. In fact, we want to encourage our children to have a healthy relationship with food and too much pressure could lead to a negative association with certain foods.
However, we do hold the power in what groceries enter the home. You’re also in charge of what meals are prepared, what snack food is offered and what times are best.
2. Schedule Meal and Snack Times
Just like a sleep plan is important, so is scheduling meals and snack times.
Toddlers are busy. They move a lot. Try copying all their movements for just 10 minutes. It’s exhausting! They have energy levels of a Tasmanian Devil, but their tummies are still too small to hold enough food to keep them feeling full for long.
To keep up with their energy levels, offer a meal or healthy snack every two hours or so. For example, breakfast and then 2 hours later, offer a mid-morning snack…and so on. The time of the meals doesn’t have to be exact every day, we’re more concerned with the length of time between meals.
However, be diligent about not offering snacks in between those two hours. Especially not those easy go-to snacks like Goldfish crackers or Cheerios. The willpower of a toddler is a powerful force… they’ll skip breakfast for crunchy crackers every time.
3. Offer Choices
Giving your toddler choices gives them a sense of autonomy. Offer at least three choices for every meal. I know, this sounds like a lot of work! But, you don’t have to create three elaborate meals. Make the choices small. For example, for breakfast, offer peanut butter toast, banana and yogurt. If they don’t eat the toast, don’t force it. If they eat all three. Hurray!
4. Let Your Child Take it From There
Now that you’ve given your child some control with eating and you’ve set up a schedule, it’s now up to them. If they decide to eat all of their pasta and none of the veggies, that’s okay. If they eat all of the salad and only one bite of anything else, that’s okay too.
You’ll notice a huge difference in the stress level at dinner time. The offer of control creates a much more positive association with food in general.
5. Be Repetitive
Have you heard, “Yuck, what’s that!”. Your toddler hasn’t even tried the new food and has already declared it disgusting!
Don’t give up after the first time. Research shows that after being exposed to a new food up to five times over the course of a couple of weeks, a child will become more comfortable with the food and might actually put it on their fork without you asking them!
6. Set an Example
If you want your child to try new foods, they need to see you eating it too! When you prioritize your relationship with food by making healthy, delicious meals that center around enjoying a meal together, your toddler will pick up on that positive association. If you’re just using food as fuel to fill you up between the other ‘important’ parts of life, your toddler will pick up on that as well.
A lot of these tips are very similar to that of sleep! Make a schedule, be patient as your child adjust to something unfamiliar, be consistent and repetitive, and lead by example. With eating and sleep, it’s easier and more effective to lead them where we want them to go, rather than forcing them.
If you’d like to learn more about how a sleep coach can help your family have more peaceful nights, schedule a chat by clicking the link below.