One thing we toddler moms stress about is how to get our toddlers to eat healthy food. Toddlers seem to have the strangest eating habits. They have the weirdest food preferences and act like cows, just wanting to graze all day. We feed them a meal and they eat two bites (maybe) and five seconds later they are STARVING.
I was meticulous about what I ate during pregnancy and the early months of breastfeeding. Then, I began to relax after my daughter and I eased into our nursing routine. I was fortunate to manufacture just the food she needed within in my own body and I could even read a book while I fed her! Those were the days! Life was so much simpler and I was able to control what my toddler ate!
How to Get Your Toddler to Eat Healthy Food
Tip #1: Start Introducing Healthy Foods Early (But Not TOO Early)
I waited until my daughter was six months old to begin introducing “solid” food. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you do not introduce solids until your baby is at least six months old. You may see guides that say “between four and six months”, but the latest research shows waiting a bit longer is better for baby. If you are unsure of whether or not your baby is ready, check out this guide from Kelly Mom.
My daughter loved playing with the spoon, but baby rice cereal did nothing for her. So, I started making my own baby food. Making your own baby food is super easy. More importantly, you can control the ingredients while introducing your baby to new flavors and textures.
That is really what baby food is all about. At this point, your baby is still receiving the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula. Baby food is a great way to allow your child to become accustomed to healthy foods and their flavors. I liked to mix and match flavors systematically, to allow my daughter to experience something new along with something familiar. I also added spices like cinnamon and nutmeg for a little extra kick.
Tip #2: Playing with Food is a GOOD Thing
Your toddler is going to be more apt to want to eat healthy foods if he/she can get hands on. It might even help if it is messy! Think juicy watermelon and cherry tomatoes. Allow your child to utilize all of their senses. Encourage your child to smell, touch, and carefully observe foods before even tasting. This makes food an adventure!
Ask your toddler to help you in the kitchen. Let them make messes! Get those tiny hands in there and do plenty of taste testing. Making healthy food fun will create instant buy-in.
Tip #3: Use the Three Tries Rule
My husband created this rule for me, back when I picky eater with a diet consisting of bagels, strawberries, and chicken. Like that is pretty much all I ate. I had no idea that I was missing out on life! This is my husband’s rule: You can’t say you don’t like something until you eat it three times, prepared three different ways.
Without this rule, I never would have even tried some of my favorite foods a second time. Preparation of a certain food can make all the difference. Toddlers, especially, become finicky about certain textures. Don’t make a big fuss if your toddler wrinkles his nose at particular foods. Just try to introduce it using a different preparation next time. For example, you tyke might spit out cooked broccoli, but may actually fall in love with raw broccoli. No, really! Try it!
Tip #4: Be a Good Model
Right now, the sun rises and sets upon Mama and Dada. You are the center of your child’s universe. I am sure you already know that your toddler will emulate everything you do, so keep in mind that means mimicking your eating habits, as well.
If you regularly eat healthy, well-balanced meals, your toddler is going to follow your lead. However, if you load up on junk food, your toddler is going to want to copy you, too. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not going to work when it comes to developing healthy eating habits. Remember that a tiny human is watching everything you do, so try your best to reach for the carrot sticks instead of the potato chips!
Tip #5: Limit Your Toddler’s Sugar Intake
We know that we should limit the amount of sugar our toddlers ingest, but it is harder than one may realize! For one, sugar is in everything! An article by Food Navigator discusses how many of the “healthy” juices marketed for kids actually have the same amount of sugar as in Coca-Cola! I recently bought “toddler” apple juice with “40% less sugar” and when I looked at the label, I realized that it still had 15 grams of sugar per serving!
Instead of offering your toddler sugary fruit juices, make drinking water the staple and juice a “special occasion” drink. Also, try juicing your own juice. You get all of the flavor of natural sugars, but none of the artificial stuff. Even after juicing, I give my daughter 1/4 juice mixed with 3/4 water.
This is the juicer I have and I LOVE it! It is what is referred to as a “masticating” juicer, which means it juices fruits and veggies at low speeds, so it does not “heat” the nutrients. You can even make pasta and nut butter with it!
Toddlers love to snack, but it is just as easy to offer low-sugar snacking options as it is to toss over a package of fruit snacks. These are some of our favorite low-sugar snacking options:
At birthday parties, my daughter prefers the veggie tray over the cupcakes. I actually have received quite a bit of flack for not “allowing” her to eat sugary foods. However, I do allow her to sample sweets because I want her to have a well-rounded palate. I just offer sweets in moderation. If I can, I offer a sugar-free alternative for the same dessert item, like sugar-free ice cream or sugar-free popsicles.
We may know that sugar is not “good” for toddlers, but do you know why? First of all, sugar fills up those tiny bellies and then there is no room left for healthy foods. Which means that your toddler may miss out on nutrients that are important to their growth and development. Eating too much sugar can also lead to tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. But did you know that too much sugar can suppress your child’s immunity? Click here to read what Dr. Sears has to say about sugar. It is a germ-a-phobe mom’s worst nightmare!
Finally, do you need a reason for your toddler to have another meltdown? Those crashes from the sugar-high will send your little one into a full-blown toddler tizzy. Thank you, I will pass. I like to think my daughter is sweet enough without extra sugary foods and this way I can keep my sanity in tact…mostly.