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Toddler Meal Time: Fussy or Fun?

Toddler Meal Time: Fussy or Fun?

Rachel McGuffey, MD, Lexington Clinic Pediatrics

Toddlers love to explore and express their independence. These same charming traits, however, can be a recipe for disaster at mealtimes.

Around age one, children’s appetites may drop off suddenly and you may notice a decreased rate of growth. Many parents are concerned about these changes in eating patterns because they were used to their child eating everything that they were offered. Parents are often also concerned about the decreased rate of growth, which is actually typical for toddlers. (Of course, if your child is losing weight, you should contact your pediatrician.)

During toddlerhood, not only does the growth rate drop, but your child will also strive to become more independent.  Instead of readily accepting everything placed in front of them, they will learn the word “no,” especially during meal times!  Foods your toddler loved will now be foods they turn down. Your toddler may take two bites one day and eat you out of house and home the next day!

Here are some suggestions for making sure your toddler gets adequate nutrition and that mealtimes are fun:

1) During mealtimes, make sure you offer at least one favorite food you know your child will eat, along with other new foods to try.  Children often need to try a new flavor several times before they acquire a taste for it. Exploring and experiencing the colors, smells, textures, and tastes of new foods is fun for toddlers. 

2) Offer a variety of foods from all food groups throughout the week.  Your child does not need to eat food from every group at every meal, as long foods from each group are offered throughout the week. Your child does not need vitamin supplementation unless he is on a special diet.    

3) Avoid getting your child other food if what is on the plate is refused. This can become a game of the wills. Your child will not starve as long as nutritious foods are available at each meal.

4) Do not make mealtime a fussy struggle.  Have your toddler sit with the family and decide what and how much to eat. Mealtimes that are relaxed and unhurried, with family members sharing conversation and laughter are fun. If your toddler does not finish her food, save the plate in case she is hungry later. Do not offer snacks in lieu of dinner, rather, warm up her dinner plate and let her eat from that.

5) Do not give your child a lot of juice or sweets.  Juice should be limited to 4 ounces daily.  Sweets should be given infrequently.  The extra sugar will decrease your child’s appetite for nutritious foods. Happy mealtime!