Has each meal become a battle ground with your toddler? Have you become a little obsessed with your child’s eating habits? Has he or she taken over the menu planning through tantrums and power games? Yes? Then it’s time to regain control of mealtime!
Encouraging healthy eating early on in life will help to ensure that good eating habits are carried on through to adulthood.
Let’s get started…
Depending on your circumstances with work and family commitments, try as far as may be possible to have some time allocated for pressure free time. This may mean planning a meal a day or a number of meals in the week when you can focus on a good routine.
Scale down the importance of mealtimes. You may be pretending to be relaxed at first, but that is the first step. Not being anxious yourself and bearing no pressure on your toddler should have magical results for you and the family. Unfortunately, it is one of those anomalies in life that the more you strive for the best possible end result sometimes this in itself can prove to be destructive. Don’t worry about specifics with what is eaten, particularly the quantity your child eats, just aim for nutrient dense meals and some healthy snacks.
Make a special place to eat
Breaking off from interesting activities can start a problem before the food has even been tasted so give fair warning of imminent mealtimes! Meals should ideally be eaten at the table, sitting down together and eating the same food. Eating with other children or adults at the table is great, although not always a possibility. Have a chat, tell stories playing music all helps to make it a pleasant experience and one to look forward to. Avoid having the TV on as this is very distracting. Ignore table manners by and large, no matter how hard this may be, there’s time to hone those skills later! It’s a good plan to have friends round away from birthday parties. A meal with good quality home cooked food gives a sense of realism that pre-schooler friends don’t eat “party food” all the time which can be a misconception only quashed when they start school and see school dinners and packed lunches!
Plan the activities for after the meal and don’t hang around hoping for those few extra mouthfuls by extending mealtimes.
Try to keep your food varied!
Fruit, vegetables, cereals, rice, pasta, breads, beans, lentils and pulses, seeds and potatoes. If your family food preferences allow, include a selection of meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk. Box schemes and food co-operatives are a great idea and really worth investigating. These can be real time and money savers. Use brown rice, interesting bread, perhaps with honey and sunflower seeds, make your own if you can and batch freeze, or buy really good bakers’ bread – much more appetising than many supermarket versions. If the food isn’t a hit no worries it sometimes takes several “tries” to like a food.
What are you going to eat?
Let your toddler help to prepare food where possible, but don’t push if he doesn’t want to get involved. Pick easy to prepare, nutritious home made food. Have picnics in the garden, let him serve himself from a selection of small quantities with variety – tomatoes, celery sticks, cheese dip, garlicky hummus, rice crackers, rice salad, pasta salad, boiled eggs, mini baked potatoes with different fillings, slices of homemade pizza, sliced cold chicken in a lemon dressing. Sometimes a bowlful of plain salad is unappealing, but dressed with flavours and textures can transform the experience. Croutons, seeds, light dressings and dips all add interest.
If you can have these foods available in the fridge/freezer fairly routinely a meal can be popped into a picnic basket and provide you and other members of the family with the basis for easy choices for packed lunches and healthy snacks to take to work, or eat at home.
Invest in equipment
Trawl the kitchen shops for interesting cookery aids, or fun gimmicky things. Make lollies – freeze fruit juice in lolly makers or puree fruit, add juice and then freeze for lollies in the same way. Small blenders are great to make inexpensive dips and making bread is inexpensive and a fun activity when you have the time. Equipment can be picked up quite cheaply secondhand, borrowed, or shared in a parent pool. Try asking older parents you may know who have unused larger pieces of equipment they no longer use now their children have flown the nest.
Grow your own…
Choose tasty interesting veg that can be picked and eaten on the spot where possible. If you’re planting peas use some without cooking with the pods intact if they’re young enough – deliciously crunchy, or use a sugar snap variety. Children are often fascinated to grow potatoes in containers it’s magical you put one or two in and later take out lots – new potatoes are best for this. Soft fruit is great too whether raspberry canes or strawberries. Herbs on the windowsill which you can buy them from garden centres, or grow from seed and are lovely add ons to sandwiches, soups and salads.
In a nutshell; relax, have some fun, promote nutritionally dense foods positively, eat together, apart, outside, in the park, plant, grow, cook together, forget rules that aren’t relevant to safety then everyone can experiment and have fun!