Mealtimes with toddlers can be challenging at times. Your idea of fun food might be building a carrot-stick pyramid. But a toddler’s idea of fun might be throwing it on the floor to see if it bounces.
So here are some clever tips to help you hold on to your sanity – and give your toddler the best start in discovering a lifelong love of healthy eating.
1. Make it colourful.
Try to serve a rainbow of different coloured fruits and veggies to your toddler each day – their plate will look more appealing, and you’ll be offering a variety of different nutrients. It’s a win/win.
2. Use fun names.
Have fun together inventing playful or descriptive names for food. Broccoli florets might be baby trees; peas could be monster eyeballs; lettuce leaves are fairy wings.
It’s also wise to avoid making foods 'good' or 'bad'. Try not to fall into the trap of saying "you can only have this if you finish that". If you show your own delight at the flavours and textures of healthy food (“This crunchy celery stick!” “This juicy pear!”), your kids are more likely to enjoy them too, rather than thinking of them as something yucky they have to eat in order to get to the ice cream.
3. Play with shapes
A change in presentation can make all the difference to mealtime success.
Try using a cookie cutter to make cute shapes in their toast and sandwiches. Arrange their dinner in a circle on the plate. Build a cheese-slice house, a cucumber-wheel car, or a capsicum stickman. Anything goes and your littlies will love you for it.
4. Involve them in food selection and prep.
The thought of taking little ones to the supermarket might fill you with dread, but it’s a great way to teach them about healthy food choices. Time your trip for when they’re not tired or hungry, and get them involved in putting things in the trolley and picking out fruit and veggies in every colour.
Once you get home, it’s time to get busy in the kitchen! This can be a fun bonding experience as well as a good chance to get fussy eaters interested in different foods.
Bring their high chair or a step stool up to the bench and let them help you cook – stirring things, tearing lettuce leaves, arranging tomato wedges on a plate. It’s a great way to get them exploring new foods without the pressure to eat them (yet!).
You can also point out herbs growing in the garden, and show them how to pick them, smell them, and taste them.
5. Mix it up.
If you have a fussy toddler on your hands, try combining a few of the above tips. Use colour, shapes and texture to get your little one experimenting with different food. Try offering them a smorgasbord of healthy snacks, all of different colour, texture, and shape – and let them have a bit of fun playing with their food (you’ll probably want to keep the baby wipes close by for this one).
It really helps if your toddler eats with someone else rather than alone – they tend to copy and join in. Invite a friend to join you for lunch, or at least sit down at the table yourself and show your toddler how much you’re enjoying your ‘baby trees’.
For more ideas, check out our Guide to Feeding Toddlers, or download our Small Meal and Lunchbox Ideas (12 months+) fridge chart here.