Part of your toddler growing into an independent person means developing their own tastes and habits. They’ll have days when they’re fussy, days when they’re not hungry and days when they’re cranky. Creating good habits and setting boundaries now, especially around mealtimes, can shape their attitudes as they grow.
Here are some tips for helping them develop a healthy attitude to food:
- Good timing - Wouldn’t it be great to get your toddler sitting and eating meals with the rest of the family? You may need to be fairly flexible to begin with so try to plan meals for when your toddler isn’t too tired, that way they’ll have the energy to enjoy themselves.
- Good role models – As your toddler gets used to eating, they’ll probably like sitting down with the rest of the family at meal times. If they can see you eat the same food they have on their plate, that’s even better.
- Start small - Offer small servings of familiar foods, and while variety is great, don’t give them so many choices they’re overwhelmed. Toddlers can also be pretty suspicious of new foods so be patient and keep offering things to them even when they refuse it at first.
- Stick with it – If they won’t eat what’s on the menu, that’s ok. If they’re hungry you can sort something out later. Try not to offer alternatives at the time, as it’ll teach them that there’s always a better option to be had.
- Enough is enough – Let them decide how much is enough. You never need to force-feed them as toddlers have much better cues for hunger and fullness than adults do. Forcing them to finish food they don’t need can makes them lose these cues.
- Encourage them – Children need to experiment. It’s fine to let them play with their food when they’re little. Try letting them feed themselves too.
Good table behavior
Teaching your toddler good behaviour during meals can take time, and patience. When they drop or throw food on purpose - don't be discouraged. They're still too little to understand what they're doing.
Mostly, toddlers want to behave in a way to gain your approval. Learning to feed themselves is a learning curve. They won’t be using a fancy dessert fork any time soon, but you can definitely teach them basic manners.
Here are a few things that might help:
- Lead by example - Your toddler will want to be like you. Often they'll learn by watching and imitating. If you and the family show good manners to one another then your toddler can see how it’s done.
- Walk them through it - Take time to show your toddler how to wash their hands before a meal, and how to hold a spoon. Remember while it might be second nature to you, it's all new to them.
- Make meal times fun - If you make meals a positive family experience then your toddler will want to join in. If your toddler feels like they are part of the occasion, they will begin to look forward to the family time together.
- Expect some mess – As your little one learns to self-feed you can expect a certain amount of kitchen chaos. A large bib is good for soaking up food and you cover the floor under the high chair with a plastic mat to help catch spills.
- Good versus naughty - Ignoring, or giving little attention to naughty behaviours can teach your toddler that misbehaving doesn't get a response. Similarly, praising good behaviours can reinforce it’s the right thing to do.
Remember, your toddler will continue to learn. Good behaviour is shaped over time so it'll take consistency and patience from you.
The materials published on this website are of a general nature and have been provided for informational purposes only. Always consult your medical practitioner or a qualified health provider for any further advice in relation to the topics discussed.