Food/Nutrition Columnist
Toddler Table Manners
Apr 14, 2014 - 12:01:52 AM

( - He has teeth, but he won't chew! She explores everything, but won't try a new food! He'd rather play with food than eat it! She can build with blocks but can't get a spoonful of food to her mouth! He can drink from a cup but spills it daily! She'll eat nothing but beans today, but won't touch them tomorrow! What am I doing wrong?

Nothing. Toddlers are a bundle of contradictions. Besides changeable eating behavior, your toddler is changing in other ways, too. His growth has slowed down. That's why he is not as eager to eat as he was as an infant. A reduced appetite is usual in children after the first birthday. Even though they are active, they need less food because their growth is slower.

We often judge how much a young child should eat against the amount we would normally eat - wrong.

What does a toddler serving size really look like?

How can I make meal time with my toddler more pleasant?

First it is important to realize that toddlers have small stomachs that need frequent refueling. This translates into at least 3 meals and 2 snacks each day. If meals are spaced too closely she won't be hungry enough to eat. If meals are spaced too far apart, she'll be so hungry and agitated she may not eat either.

Everyone, including your toddler, enjoys company when eating. Take the time to sit with your child. If a child is actively playing they may need a little downtime before a meal. Reading a book can help make the transition.

Try to offer some finger foods. Utensils are still a challenge at this age so having something she can easily get to her mouth is helpful. Use plates, cups and silverware that are child-sized. Parents often give toddlers a spoon to eat, thinking forks may be dangerous. But, toddler forks with round tings can help a child spear food and successfully get it to their mouth.

Offer less rather than more. Your child can ask for seconds. Don't rush eating. Toddlers dawdle and they usually need about 20 minutes to eat.

Should I give my toddler dessert if he doesn't eat?

Dessert should be considered part of a meal, not a reward for a clean plate. If you give your child custard, pudding, flavored yogurt, fruit or a cookie, that's fine. They are not rewards; they are good food choices. Even if your toddler bypassed the entire meal and ate only dessert it is not so terrible once in a while. The key is amount. If you normally give one cookie, then one cookie it is, even if dinner is skipped. Dessert should not make up for a meal that is skipped. Keep all portions toddler-sized.

Use this toddler mealtime quiz to help you assess how well you are doing feeding your little bundle of energy that seems to have misplaced his appetite.

Your toddler usually:

Yes              No                Has meals or snacks 4 or more times a day

Yes              No                Is served food without negative comments

Yes              No                Is given toddler-sized portions

Yes              No                Is served a new food at the beginning of a meal when he

is most hungry

Yes              No                Eats in a pleasant place

Yes              No                Is not hurried to finish eating

Yes              No                Can have a choice between two acceptable foods

Yes              No                Is encouraged to feed himself

Yes              No                Is offered a variety of foods at meals and snacks

Yes              No                Is given snacks that are low in salt, sugar and fat

Bottom line: Though mealtimes with a toddler can be a challenge, hold on to your sense of humor. Try to couple each spoonful with a smile. Consider each meal as part of a long chain of experiences that will help form positive attitudes about food. This will help you appreciate that each individual success or failure is not as important as slow and steady progress toward mature eating behavior.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Diabetes Counter, 5th Ed., 2014

The Fat and Cholesterol Counter, 2014

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:

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