No matter how much of a foodie you or your spouse are, you might find that your toddler just isn’t the same. They have no interest in the meals you make and they turn up their nose at everything more than the occasional snack.
While you may be glad they’re not arm-deep in the sugary candies and salty snacks of the world, having a child who doesn’t show an interest in eating at all can conversely lead to deficiencies and other health problems, because they simply aren’t getting enough nutrients.
If you’re having difficulties with your child eating enough, how can you help them along? Here are 8 tips.
1. Don’t force it.
One of the first things you can do? Don’t try to force your child to eat an entire plateful of food at meal times, especially if they’re still a toddler. This can teach them that mealtimes are stressful, rather than a time to enjoy.
Rather, praise them for whatever they do eat and if they don’t eat that much, ensure that they have some other snacks or foods handy throughout the day, to cater to their appetites whenever they do inevitably get hungry.
2. Limit distractions.
But while you shouldn’t force mealtimes, you should still make them an event. Put away the toys and television and require your child to sit at the table and interact with the family. They don’t necessarily have to eat everything set before them, but they do need to participate in meal times (and you never know — without those distractions, they may just end up eating more).
3. Make food interesting for your child.
Even adults suffer from food boredom. If your meals are pretty repetitive and boring, both flavor-wise and by appearance, it might just be that your child isn’t that interested in what’s going on, on their plate.
Try to make the food interesting for your child, with different textures, flavors and colors. Teach them about where their food comes from; take them to your local farmer’s market or on a local farm tour. Teach them about the different cultures that influence your meals.
4. Make a schedule.
Kids like repetition and routine, and it’s the same with mealtime. Try to work things out so your child is always eating at the same time each day, including snacks. This can be difficult if you work a long work day or have a busy schedule, but if you can make it happen, you might just find that the repetition helps your child eat more, more frequently.
5. Don’t cater to their every whim.
If you truly have a child that’s not interested in eating — and who isn’t merely a picky child — you don’t want to just cook them anything their little mind thinks up at the dinner table. There’s no guarantee they’ll even eat it, after all. Be firm about serving your child what’s available, even if you don’t force them to actually eat it.
6. Be positive.
Yes, it can be frustrating to look over at your child’s plate of untouched food, but try not to be negative at the dinner table. Instead, be positive about anything they do eat, and pile on the praise.
7. Put them in power.
Sometimes, allowing your child a bit of power can go a long way. Allow them to take (a little) control over their eating habits by asking them to help choose what they’ll eat. Say you make baked chicken with two vegetable sides. Rather than automatically putting both vegetables on their plate, ask them which they want to eat.
8. Make breakfast a part of your routine.
It’s so easy to skip breakfast for yourself and simply hand your child a toaster pastry to hold them over while they watch cartoons, but try to avoid this. Kids are often hungry in the morning and by feeding them the right things at breakfast, you can actually boost their metabolism and increase the likelihood that they’ll need food later in the day.
So go with a balanced, healthy breakfast, even if it requires a bit more work.
Know When It’s Time to Consult the Professionals
Of course, at some point, you may need to bring in the professionals. If you worry your child may be developing a nutrient or vitamin deficiency, talk to your pediatrician about your options. Likewise, if you think that your child isn’t eating due to sensory issues, you may want to also talk to your pediatrician about possible treatments.