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Ways to Get Toddlers to Eat More

Published July 18, 2012        by Sarah

Image by [kajsa] on FlickrDoes your toddler remind you of the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Tunes?  Kids at this age are incredibly active and full of energy; it can make their parents tired just watching them play, run, jump, roll, and dance.  And it might make many parents wonder where they are getting the fuel to burn.  Toddlers, as well as being energetic, are notoriously picky eaters.  If your child will eat any kind of vegetable, whole grain, or protein without fuss, you’re having a good day.  How can you get your busy toddler to eat a balanced diet?  Here are some practical and some creative ways to get toddlers to eat more.

  • Play with your food.  Thank goodness for celery!  While this isn’t the most nutritionally dense vegetable, it does count toward their daily allotment – and it is one of the foods that you can persuade them to eat.  Try Ants on a Log: cut a stalk of celery in half and smear it with peanut butter.  Put some raisins (or a few chocolate chips) on this PB log.  A twist on this is the Celery Butterfly.  Again, spread peanut butter (or another nut butter) or cream cheese on the celery. Add raisin eyes near the top.  Use two twisted pretzels for wings on the plate. Make it a neat food gift!

PlanningwithKids has a great idea for a celery car. Smear celery with peanut butter and then poke with toothpicks to make the axel.  Attach carrot disks for the wheels.  Add some raisins for passengers, if you want a boost of sweet with this healthy treat.

  • When in doubt, dip.  Ranch dip isn’t exactly a “health” food; it is caloric, but it can offer healthy fats that help satiate your child.  They can also help provide incentive to eat those celery and carrot sticks or green pepper slices. Put a small amount of dip in a container and provide an array of cut veggies.

Lower fat, higher nutrition dips include salsa or hummus, if your toddler is willing.

  • “Fortify” or sneak.  You can add vegetables and other healthy ingredients to soups, stews, pasta dishes, and more.  For instance, add diced kale to a spaghetti or pizza sauce.  Add fruits, veggies, and wheat germ to smoothies.  Sprinkle cereal with wheat germ or flax meal.  Add applesauce, grated carrot or zucchini, or pumpkin to muffins and breads.

Image by ben.ramirez on FlickrThere are two schools of thought here: one is to sneak it in and just let your child enjoy. Others say to create an “adventurous” approach to eating, telling your child what is in his food so he does not feel betrayed later.  It is really up to you how you want to handle it.

  • It is not usually hard to get toddlers to eat fruit because they love the natural sweetness. Cut up bananas, strawberries, and other favorites and serve plain, with a yogurt dip, or with cheese (the fat from the dairy helps satiate your child). Create a little fruit basket to take with you places to make snacking more fun.
  • Serve at least one vegetable per meal every day. Many households have a one-bite rule. The child must take one bite; then he may choose if he wants to try more.  With toddlers, the idea is to introduce them to new foods. They are naturally xenophobic, or afraid to try new foods, so consistent exposure is important.
  • Model good eating.  If you want your child to eat broccoli, you better be enjoying it, too!
  • Offer kid-friendly, healthy snacks.  Kids love string cheese, for instance. Have a bag in the fridge for quick, easy snacks or car trips.  About 20 percent of a toddler’s calories comes from snacks, so make sure he’s getting nutrients with those between-meal foods.

Toddlers don’t have to eat that much to fulfill their daily requirements.  Because they do not need as many calories as you do, make sure to keep portions small and restrict “junk” foods.  Treats are certainly ok – once in a while! – but most of his calories should come from real foods.  Not only are you fueling your child now, you are setting him up with healthy habits for life!