Does your kid enjoy chicken tenders, french fries, macaroni and cheese, and all the other “typical” kid foods? Yeah, mine too (except, strangely enough, not so much interested in mac and cheese). I found that employing strategies like making a separate meal for the kid to be time consuming and wasteful. You’re here because you would like to get your little one to eat a wider variety of foods, add more nutrition to his or her diet, or not dirty a separate pan just for your child. Try out these 10 tips to get your toddler to eat dinner:
Want these great tips? Visit this post: How to deal when your toddler is a picky eater
1) Make eating fun. Make vehicle sounds as the spoon heads toward his mouth (See my post When a Spoon isn’t a Spoon). Your kiddo might just forget that you’re trying to force food into their mouths. Your other option is to make shapes or characters out of food. Try cutting food into bite-sized shapes, arrange circular objects into the shape of Mickey’s head with ears, or make a smiley face with condiments.
2) Eat the food yourself (be a Role Model). If your child prefers to mimic one parent over the other, maybe try having that parent eat said food and show their enthusiasm about it. Or, does your child enjoy watching other children? Try Copy-Kids Eat Fruits and Vegetables DVD. I reviewed that recently and found my daughter trying more foods after watching it. You can read my Copy-Kids review here.
3) Offer a reward for eating. We’ve either had to give a small treat right after dinner or offer 1 m&m per bite of dinner. If you do the bite for bite, be prepared to sit at the table much longer. If your child is not as inclined to sugary treats or you’re trying to avoid them, you could offer some other reward like an extra bedtime story, a game, toy, etc.
4) Start with a small portion of something you know he eats. On occasion, if we feed our daughter a small portion of fruit or yogurt, it wets her appetite and gets her to eat dinner. I have found that if I cook something I know she will eat, I can usually get her to eat other foods.
5) Cut off snack time. Is snack time too close to meal time? Maybe your kid isn’t eating because she’s snacked on too much unhealthy stuff just before a meal. What works for us is to cut off snacks at about 4:00 p.m. for a 5:30 p.m. meal.
6) Don’t offer the bad stuff or typical stuff. I really mean, try not to make it a habit that they fall back on for everything. Chicken nuggets, french fries, hot dogs, and macaroni and cheese all have their place in a child’s menu, but don’t make it something they expect. In our house, our kiddo is expected to eat what we eat instead of constantly being fed typical toddler foods. I never make her what is considered “kid food” and she eats a variety of foods.
7) Give choices. Try offering a small variety of options that you want him to eat. Sometimes making their own decisions gets them excited about eating something they wouldn’t have before. I plan my meals for the week (or two) and then I sometimes ask my daughter something like “would you like peas or green beans with dinner?” Two options and she normally answers with her preference.
8) Let her help you cook. Stirring the food (or using her hands to help mix) may give her a sense of ownership and make eating what she made more fun. Some other ideas are tearing lettuce, tossing cheese on a salad, etc.
9) Introduce and reintroduce those foods. Make it non-optional to try it on occasion and be sure to be as positive and enthusiastic about the food, even if it’s something you don’t care for. This is where the treat after dinner reward comes into play again. Our daughter must at least try a food or we don’t consider it a successful meal in regards to after dinner treats.
10) Mix them in. Sometimes mixing those vegetables into a casserole hides them enough to make it pass! I’ve even heard of pureeing vegetables to put in sauces for an added nutritional bonus. One of the favorites in this house is Shepherd’s pie, so we get potatoes, meat, peas, corn, carrots, and cheese in one sitting!
None of these are fail proof, but what is when a toddler is involved? These are some of the suggestions we have tried though none work all the time. I can tell you that we’ve employed many of these techniques and she eats a variety of foods that might not be normal for her age. While we still have to convince her to eat at times, she’s a really good eater and there aren’t many days she has to go to bed hungry.
One final thought: We are consistent with sitting down at the dinner table as a family for our meals. If I were still having trouble getting my daughter to eat, I might consider allowing her to walk around and eat. In fact, sometimes she asks to stand beside me to let me feed her, instead of sitting in her chair. You just have to do what you find works. If your kid is motivated to eat real food by being allowed to roam, go for it. Right now, your goal is to get your kid to eat. You can work on sitting still and learning table manners once you know they aren’t going to die of starvation.
Did you try any of these, and did anything work (or not)? Anything you would add to the list?