I Stopped Stressing Out About Mealtime with Toddlers


I never really knew the struggles of feeding children until I had my own. Even the kids I watched from time to time when I was younger didn’t seem to have any issues with eating. The infant stage seemed easy enough. There are really only two options: breast milk or formula. The six month mark is fun since we could start adding soft solids into the mix. Babies also seem to be more adventurous and open to trying different food.

With a four year old and 16-month old, I’m reminded of when the challenges began. Our son started to have an opinion about food right around 18-months old. Up until then, he would gladly eat anything we put in front of him. He was a dream child from that perspective! Then all of a sudden it changed. Now he was telling me that the chicken was “too spicy” when it was the same chicken he was already used to eating. I’m bracing myself for my daughter to do the same. Even though I know all children are different, she, too, is already showing signs of food preference.

Did the kids eat?

This is usually the first question I ask when I get home from work. Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that as long as they ate something – I’m happy. At home we usually don’t make the effort in preparing separate meals for the children. Whatever we eat, they eat. With our first child, we were so concerned with how much of everything he ate. Did he have enough vegetables? Did he have too many carbs? Why won’t he eat any protein?! Eventually I realized that all that really mattered was that he ate. He was also old enough to communicate with us when he was hungry and we would gladly offer him a snack in the evening. 

Increase in volume, decrease in frequency.

If the meal isn’t his favorite, he could pick at his food all night long. He starts playing in his seat with his hands, imagination and some pretty interesting sounds emanate from his mouth. He does everything he could possibly do in a chair besides eat. My husband’s latest formula: increase volume = decrease frequency. We encourage our son to fill his spoon with each bite (he has quite a big mouth) and all of a sudden dinner time is cut in half! 

Excuses, excuses. 

Ever since my son learned to talk, mealtime is always a time for negotiation. “Two bites and I’m done?” Then there’s the “I don’t like that. I want pizza” or something other than what is in front of him. This is when we tell him to try the food first. Most of the time he’ll end up liking it enough to have a decent portion. Other times he says, “But I’m full already” after barely making a dent in his plate. Which, by the way, is about the same portion that we give his 16-month old sister and she’s already plowed through at least half of it. Then dessert comes out and all of a sudden he has an appetite again. The only way he can have dessert is by finishing most of the food on his plate. Most of the time he’s able to have his treat. Surprise, surprise!

alex eating
theo dessert

At the end of the day, if my kids have had some veggies, protein, carbs and fruit, I’m good. They get three meals a day and at least two snacks. If they show any signs of hunger, I feed them again. I try to not make it too complicated. I keep snacks on hand that I know they will like. Some of them are blueberries, bananas, Cheerios, yogurt, and Mandarin oranges. And if that doesn’t work, making smoothies together is a sure way to get some vegetables in since it’s a fun “treat.” 

As long as my kids are healthy and growing, I’m a happy mama. How do you get through mealtimes with your toddlers? I’m always in the market for more tactics!