How I reversed my bad habits and got my toddler to actually be hungry at meal time and eat her dinner rather than snacking throughout the day.
Kaitlyn (2 1/2 and all toddler) has always been on the more petite side in weight. Like many parents who go the baby led weaning route, I always wanted to make sure she was getting enough to eat. Because of this, I was a little more relaxed on the rules I followed for big sis Hailey. As time went by I realized it was getting to be a pain to get my toddler to eat dinner and other meals at their proper time. The bad habits we had fallen into meant she’d only eat a few bites at meal time, but would sometimes say she was hungry only a short time later.
I reevaluated, saw some areas I could improve on, and implemented the following to change her habits. It worked! My toddler, that once ate like a bird, now generally finishes her meals and occasionally (like last night!) even asks for more. It’s made mealtime so much less stressful for me and more filling for her. Here are the new habits that have helped us to this:
Now of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule. If they’ve been running on the playground for 3 hours and need something, of course I’ll let them have a snack, but regular snacking isn’t a thing around here. Not only does it save money on the grocery bill (snack specific foods can add up) but it means they are actually hungry at meal time. In fact, often 30 minutes before both kids start telling me they are hungry to which say GREAT, we are going to have dinner in 30 minutes.
Hamburgers with homemade buns, roasted broccoli, and tomato avocado salad.
If snacks are a regular thing in your house, try making snack foods more dull and meal food more exciting. It’s no wonder kids like snacks more; they are usually salty or sweet and come in fun crinkly packages. Switching to something more ordinary (cut up veggies, a banana, etc) for snacking can take the thrill out wanting to snack just for the fun food.
Have an active afternoon.
Pretty basic, but if we are busy at the park or riding bikes in the driveway, the kiddos are distracted and not thinking of a snack. Plus, all that activity revs up their hunger so they are ready to eat at dinnertime!
Marinated pork chop, roasted Brussels sprouts, and cantaloupe spheres.
Give a 15 minutes heads up.
I find all our activities in a day (leaving the house, taking a bath) go much smoother if I give Kaitlyn adequate time to prepare. I tell the girls that dinner will be in 15 minutes and ask them to set the table (which at 2 1/2 and 5 is just napkins and forks for all). Giving my toddler time to start anticipating dinner means she is ready to climb in her chair at mealtime rather than being upset that I’m interrupting whatever activity she is engaged in.
Dippable salad with pinto bean and cheese freezer burritos.
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Give the toddler a choice.
Not a choice in what to eat (I subscribe to the method of I chose what and when to eat and the toddler gets to choose if and how much), but a choice in other meal related matters can help her feel included in the process. Again, I start this 15 minutes before the meal because somehow choosing which cup or which spoon takes her forrrreeevvvveerrr. Kaitlyn gets really excited about forks and spoons for some reason and picking her own definitely helps mealtime run more smoothly.
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with grapes. On a “I want everything to be white” kind of day.
Don’t overfill the plate.
I used to pile on the food hoping that seeing more would help her eat more, but I’ve actually found the opposite to work better. If I put a modest portion of each food on her plate, she seems to eat more and ask for more. I’ve heard some parents swear by serving family style and letting each child fix his or her own plate. Sounds like a good theory to me, but personally we haven’t reached that point yet.
Rotisserie chicken, roasted butternut squash, mixed greens salad, and blueberries.
Have an older sibling who is a good eater.
This is cruel to put as a suggestion isn’t it? I wanted to include it though because I have no doubt that watching her older sister, who eats anything and everything, has encouraged Kaitlyn to be more adventurous in what she chooses to eat. It’s like she sees Hailey and I eat something and figure it has to be good. For example, kombucha. Hailey and I chug the stuff and Kaitlyn will sip it, make a terrible face, then go back and sip it again. It’s hilarious.
Cascadian Farms Fruitful O’s with a “lemon drink” of warm water, lemon juice, ACV, and honey.
Eat the same thing.
Along the same lines as above, eating the same thing a the same time has helped Kaitlyn develop good habits and more adventurous taste buds.
Slow cooker honey garlic chicken thighs over rice.
Also see my post: We started eating dinner as a family and here is what changed.
Allow plenty of time for meals.
I’ve accepted that we are just at a point in our house where eating dinner takes a solid 45 minutes. It’s probably good for me to learn to eat more slowly (if I’m hungry I can just shovel it in), but I won’t pretend it’s not tedious. My toddler eats at a snail’s pace, so when I used to think she wasn’t eating much, it turned out she just wasn’t eating as quickly.
Almond butter and honey sandwich, pistachios and raisins, grape tomatoes, and pita chips.
Cut out distractions.
Growing up my family always had meals together- in the dining room and with candles lit (I kid you not). It was so nice that it created an atmosphere to focus on only food and conversation. I’m slowly working on getting the same feel in place for our dinners. It’s a work in progress, but having no distractions (crafts on the table, etc) helps. My dad always had music in the background too, which I enjoyed, but I’ve found at age 2 that music doesn’t work yet because both Kaitlyn and Hailey are going to want to get up and twirl.
Roasted sausage and sweet potato cubes with cantaloupe.
Make food taste good.
Near the top of the list of things that tickle me pink is when Kaitlyn or Hailey say more Brussels sprouts please! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that young kids would or could like Brussels sprouts or other seemingly “adult” food. I’ve finally realized that beyond the challenge of cutting or chewing certain foods at the toddler age, there is no difference between kid food and adult food. We all like food that is flavorful! Honestly, it’s why I haven’t been able to do as many kid-specific recipes on here, because my kids typically just eat what I eat.
I don’t expect my kids to eat boiled broccoli because boiled broccoli sounds really unappealing to me too. But adding a sprinkle of salt and garlic powder and roasting, means we all love the taste and gobble it up.
Share with me!
What are your meal time struggles?
What is your best meal time tip?
Does anyone else have kids who want to spontaneously twirl between dinner bites?