Getting a toddler to sit down and eat is no easy task. It’s made more difficult by stressful schedules of parents. What are the best ways to make sure they get everything they need?
Start With Cereal
Chances are you’ve been serving a form of cereal to your child for a while. Placing cereal on a table or high chair and having them feed themselves helps develop the child’s fine motor skills and depth perception. That’s great! Keep it up. Remember to avoid super sugary cereals and focus on nutrient fortified ones. This will hopefully instill a lifelong love of grains and bread.
Then come the vegetables. Vegetables are a huge part of anyone’s nutritional needs, not just toddlers. It’s important to move them to veggies before the introduction of fruits. Many children, after tasting how sweet fruits can be, will be hesitant to try less sweet vegetables if fruits are served first.
When cooking veggies, how you cook them is as important as how you select them. Frying and boiling them will leach valuable nutrients out of the vegetable and into the water or oil. Steaming is best and usually pretty easy. Many frozen vegetables can be steamed in the bag. Those that can’t be steamed in the bag can be cooked over a boiling pot of water with a colander.
Fruits play a large role in toddler nutrition. It’s easy to incorporate colorful fruits into the child’s diet if they are already used to eating colorful vegetables. Taher offers “Rainbow Classes” at our K-12 schools for this very reason. If the child likes green vegetables, introduce green apples or green grapes as something they may like as well. If they like red vegetables, do the same with strawberries or apples.
How To Keep Them Eating Healthy
Now that you’ve introduced fruits and vegetables to your child, the trick is to keep them eating healthy. The easiest and best way to keep the momentum going is for you to eat the same things yourself. How often do you see your kids doing what you do, whether for better or worse? You are the most important role model in their early childhood. So eating a proper diet with colorful, fresh fruits and vegetables is the best way to keep them doing the same.
Providing some sort of dip like low-fat yogurt makes having a fruit more fun. Involve kids in picking out what they want to eat. Make small pizzas or fruit bagels using ingredients they might not be familiar with but are similar to things they have already tried and liked. Make the old “Ants on a log” with celery, peanut butter, and raisins (while taking into account the possibility of peanut allergies). Freeze fruit during the warm months for them to enjoy.
With these tips in mind, remember that too much snacking can lead to a full tummy when it comes time to eat a family meal. Set up a snack schedule so they will be hungry during dinner time. Sitting down to a family dinner provides not only good nutrition but also a healthy family environment. Studies from Cornell and the University of Florida showed vast developmental improvements to children when the family joined together for a meal.
Planning For A Picky Eater
Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. This can make proper toddler nutrition a nigh impossible feat. There are ways to make the experience easier though.
- Turn meal time into story time. If you’re already reading to your children (you should be for multiple reasons), adding where their food comes from is a natural expansion on that.
- Explain what kids their age are eating around the world. Talk to them about food professions that they may come into contact with like line cooks or chefs.
- Bring their heroes into it. Many kids emulate their heroes whether it’s swinging from a web or wearing the same clothes as an older sibling. Bring foods the heroes enjoy into reality for them. Even small items can make a huge difference.
Keep The Momentum Going
Healthy eating habits start young and lead to a great foundation of toddler nutrition. We’ll explore how nutritional needs will change and evolve for your little ones in the next article.