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Tips for Mealtime Battles with Toddlers

Resource Type

Parent Handouts and Info - Parent


Offers suggestions for facilitating better mealtimes with toddlers, including regular family mealtimes, offering choices, and praising good eating.


All Ages

Age Groups

Toddlerhood (1-3)

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Tips for Mealtime Battles with Toddlers

Tips for Mealtime Battles with Toddlers

  • Have regular family meal times. UUse this time to talk and enjoy each other's company. Create a fun, relaxed and special time together. But don't push too hard for "quality time." A fun 10 minute family dinner may be enough for busy toddlers. Toddlers can learn to stay down once put down if you keep the rule to not let them back to the table. You will also enjoy your meals more when you don't let your child sit on your lap or eat from your plate during meals. Try not to watch TV during meals. Instead, focus on talking with your child. This will help your child learn to interact, and will help his language skills develop.
  • To help toddlers eat more happily and healthfully, here are some things to avoid:
    • Lots of strong emotions at mealtime
    • Getting into battles with toddlers, requiring certain foods or amounts of food
    • Making special meals to cater to your toddler's requests
  • Offer nutritional choices and keep servings small. Toddlers often like three or four different kinds of food at a meal, with different textures and tastes. Don't give your toddler a heaping pile of food on her plate. You can always give her more if she finishes.
  • Give your child some control. Let her choose between your choices of nutritional foods. Let her decide when she is done.
  • Make meal times fun. Let your child help cook the meal. Offer finger foods and dipping sauce. Make fun shapes with sandwiches or pasta. Make blue mashed potatoes!
  • Variety is the spice of life! Help your child to develop a wide range of tastes. Expose her to many different tastes and textures by watching others eat and by trying new things, herself. It is a normal part of learning to taste new foods and spit them out at first, so do not punish this.
  • Many parents struggle with using food to discipline or comfort their child. Using food to bribe, reward, or comfort a child can give food too much power. Many children begin to think of food as something that can make them happy or sad. Food can become a crutch that a child turns to for comfort. This may help in the short term, but it does not build self-control or self-esteem. It's OK to give food treats from time to time... food can be really enjoyable! However, don't link it to whether or not your child is good or upset. Remember that food is fun and healthy. But don't let food have power over your child's emotions or behavior. This can cause eating problems later.
  • Model good eating habits. Help your child learn by your example of eating healthy foods and using table manners.
  • Praise good eating and avoid bribery. Giving sweets to get your child to eat her peas may work in the short term, but it may set up bad eating habits. If your child says that she is not hungry, do not give her dessert. Tell her, "After food, then some dessert. If you're not hungry, that's fine... but no dessert."
  • If your child is particularly difficult around mealtimes, here are some tips:
    • What do you expect for your child's eating and mealtime behavior? Make sure your expectations make sense for your child's age. It is the toddler's 'job' to question things and show her independence, and this includes mealtime.
    • Talk to your child at mealtime. Discuss things that interest your toddler so that he can talk with you.
    • Avoid distractions such as TV.
    • If your child continues to have difficulty, you can ask him to leave the table. Then offer some healthy food later.

Adapted from Healthy Steps. Edited and Compiled by the Center for Promotion of Child Development Through Primary Care 2011

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