Continuing on from my last article on feeding toddlers, here are some more ideas and essentials for developing healthy eating habits in toddlers and establishing a love of ‘real’ whole foods as they grow into children. I’m writing this based on raising my own two children and 18 years of working with sick and fussy children. I don’t know it all and every child is so very different, but here are some more of my general thoughts.
New and changing tastes
Every child is different and their needs, likes, and dislikes are constantly evolving, as is their appetite. This is often frustrating for parents and makes our lives with kids all the more tricky. But this is NORMAL so don’t let it become a source of stress. Research indicates a new food may need to be offered 8 or more times before a toddler will accept it.
I could list pages of foods my 5 and 9 years old loved when they were little and now hate (and vice versa). That is why it is so important to always offer and encourage them to give all foods a try. As they get older (and for very stubborn children) reward charts are great – they don’t have to eat it all, just try it. Persist, persist and then persist a little more!
It took me 3 years of putting salad leaves on both of my kids plates before they happily began to eat (and ask for leaves). My son used to pick up the leaves and say ‘don’t like flowers’, to which I’d respond (trying to mask my frustration), ‘they are leaves, not flowers.’ But he’d throw them over onto my plate regardless.
Don’t fret when they fuss
Easier said than done, and I understand I have the benefit of hindsight here. But know this…your toddler will not always eat what you want them to eat when you want them to eat it. Their appetite will also vary enormously from day to day, week to week. Even now, sometimes my kids eat a lot, other days only a little. Accept this and don’t let it get to you! Until they can communicate with you, you will find this frustrating. But you have no choice but to honour their needs. Trying to force feed or coerce your toddler into eating is pointless. Their bodies know best. They may just not be hungry so by coercing them to eat you are teaching them that they should eat even when they are not hungry. They may be feeling off colour or teething so food is not appealing. They may feel too tired to eat. Whatever the cause, try, try again then leave it with them to decide when they are hungry.
Offer them a variety of whole foods, but if they reject them, leave them be. Whatever you do, don’t offer them processed or sugary foods to satisfy yourself that they have “eaten something.” More harm than good comes from this.
When they are sick
Sickness is a time, in my experience that many bad eating habits are formed. I can’t tell you how many chronically unwell children I have treated who have developed serious sugar addictions and terrible eating habits (which has made them even more sick ironically), whilst sick.
Sickness is a time to pay even more attention to your child’s eating habits, not give into demands for treat foods. If your child doesn’t have an appetite when sick, then just provide them with lots of fluids and support them. I find coconut water goes down well (and is isotonic) and most importantly a bone broth to drink or use as a stock for a soup is so very healing. Read more about bone broth (and a recipe) here. I always have a supply of jars of broth in my freezer for an immune and nutritional boost when required. You can always add a little rice or even rice noodles if that’s what they feel like (i.e.; chicken noodle soup).
Finally, follow their lead but also stay somewhat in control. They will only eat nutritionally inadequate foods if that’s what you provide them. Their little bodies need more nutrition for growth and repair during toddlerhood more than ever. What an amazing gift for your child – to provide them with healing, nourishing foods and develop a lifelong appreciation of whole foods.