Teatime is fun time!

A few simple rules can help you avoid mealtime misery – and help tame the tyrant toddler in the high chair!

Food and mealtimes are a common battleground but parents and carers should try to avoid fighting over food. This is one of the few areas where your toddler can express their growing independence and have control. In addition, small children are often naturally suspicious of new tastes and textures.

Talking about food, reading about and playing with new foods means that when it turns up on a toddler’s plate they are familiar with it and more willing to try it.

Faddy eating is usually more of an issue for parents than it is for toddlers. A child who is growing, has lots of energy and is offered healthy choices almost always balances their food intake over time.

Think small

Toddlers can be daunted by large portions. Keep servings small and appetising so eating doesn’t seem like a big task. Cut finger foods into bite-sized pieces that are easy for little hands to pick up.

Stay calm

If your toddler rejects a particular food – or even a whole meal – remember, it’s the food they’re rejecting, not you. If your child doesn’t want to eat, take the food away without a fuss.

Make food fun

Cutting foods into shapes or colouring them with fruit or vegetable juice can make some kids more likely to eat.

Be patient

Toddlers tend to be naturally unadventurous. Experts say they may need to come across a new food five to 15 times before they’re willing to eat it or know if they like it. So if your tot turns up their nose at something new, calmly take it away. You can try serving it again another time.

Don’t bribe

Bribing, forcing or rewarding your child for eating is never a good idea. If you promise your child a biscuit for eating lunch, you are teaching them that lunch is a punishment and the biscuit is a reward.

Let them help

Helping prepare a meal will make your child feel more part of things. Even young toddlers can be enlisted to tear the lettuce for a salad or wash fruit. Older ones can help with mixing and laying the table.

Make it special

Children like to be independent and love having small bowls of their own finger foods, such as strips of pasteurised cheese, toast fingers, raisins and vegetable sticks, as an alternative to a formal family meal.

Keep it simple

Don’t waste time and energy creating over-elaborate meals. You can’t beat fresh food that tastes and looks good.

Set a good example

Kids learn by observation. If the family sits together at meal times, kids will be encouraged to eat by watching others.

Don’t expect manners

It’s unrealistic to expect toddlers to have table manners. It’s natural for a young child to want to squash their food and explore it with their fingers. Playing is part of understanding. Put a stout bib on them, protect the floor with a plastic tablecloth and don’t fret. They’ll get tidier in their eating habits as they get older!

Know when to call it a day

If your child stops eating, turns away or gives you other signs that they’ve had enough, it’s time to call a halt. Trying to force children to carry on eating when they’ve had enough just gets everyone cross and grouchy and could lead to them overeating. Mealtimes should not really last longer than 30 minutes.

Stay cool about mess

Finger feeding is fun but, like all feeding at this stage, it can be messy. Instead of fretting about sticky fingers, give in to the fact that mess is all part of the fun and experience of eating. Have a cloth handy to wipe hands and mouth at the end of the meal.

Last updated: 15 April 2019