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10 Ways to Encourage Your Toddler to Eat

Food varietyParents often worry that their toddlers aren’t getting enough nutrition, and ensuring that they do is an important job. Toddlers are known for going through a ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ eater stage as part of their developmental process.  This week in our parenting tips series, 10 ways becomes 15 ways as we explore how parents can take steps to make sure mealtimes aren’t a battleground, our toddlers get the nutrition they need, and how to encourage them to eat.

  1. Your role as the parent is to provide the food, not force children to eat it.
  2. Sometimes the more attention we give to not eating, the more children do not eat. It is giving a lot of energy and attention to a negative behaviour.
  3. Provide children with choice and eat with them. Toddlers should be included in family meals. It’s not good practice to feed children separately. Eating as a family is a social occasion and extremely important in family dynamics, involve babies from six months upwards.
  4. Children will eat one day and not the next. Love beans today and hate them tomorrow. Try offering food buffet style. Lay it on the table and encourage children to choose what they want to eat. There is less waste and untouched food can be used at another meal time.
  5. Children will not allow themselves to starve. Once good, healthy options are available, they will choose to eat. Stop nagging them.
  6. Children enjoy different tastes and textures, offer choice again in this area.
  7. Allow children to be involved in food shopping and meal preparation. Usually they are excited to eat what they have prepared.
  8. With young toddlers, offer the same food on many occasions as their taste buds are developing. Often they’ll change their mind about foods as they grow – or even just if the mood suits them.
  9. Children get bored with foods, just as adults do. Change menus around and plan the weekly shopping to accommodate this.
  10. Set a time limit for sitting and eating. Don’t force children to sit for long periods of time, trying to make them eat. When you have eaten, chat about your day and share some stories, then say, “Let’s tidy up, it seems you are not hungry just now.”
  11. Always allow young children eat later. Don’t deprive them of food until the next meal as punishment. They are too young for such actions. Children may be grazers. Allow them healthy snacks, be creative in food preparation and offer at least five meals per day including nutritious drinks all day.
  12. Children know when they are hungry; they are born with this instinct. By controlling too much what and when they eat we take this away from them. Follow their lead in this. You will find they have hungry periods in the day, and hungrier days than others.
  13. Do a weekly food pyramid. Mark in daily what your child eats. You may find that over the week they have eaten pretty well.
  14. Praise children for what they did eat, and try not to focus on what they haven’t eaten. Unless your child is continuously sick and not gaining weight or growing and developing, s/he is most likely having enough food.
  15. If you are concerned that they are not eating, visit your community nurse or GP.

Next you might like to read 10 Ways to Encourage Healthier Eating.

This article is part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips, and is by One Family’s Director of Children and Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly. Coming soon: 10 Ways to Make the Most of Halloween and 10 Ways to Manage Homework.

LIVE Facebook Q&A with Geraldine on this topic on Monday 13 October from 11am-12pm on One Family’s Facebook page.

Find out more about our parenting skills programmes and parent supports. For support and advice on these or any related topics, call askonefamily on lo-call 1890 66 22 12 or email