Surviving Mealtimes With A Toddler

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In my three and a bit years as a dad, I’d probably say that the constant battle between child and food has been the most challenging. I use “challenging”, but I could easily substitute that with “annoying”, “infuriating” or “exasperating” – I could also chuck in a few swear words for good measure, but I’ll show some constraint.

I think it’s the unpredictability that gets to me the most. I don’t know at what age this goes away, but at 3.5 years old at present, there’s no sign of it happening anytime soon. One day she will happily eat something, the next she will flat out refuse to even try – even when it’s the exact same meal!

As such, I find it difficult to answer when someone asks how Toddler L gets on with food. On the whole, she eats pretty well, is willing to try new stuff and has a much varied diet than I did. In fact, she happily eats some foods that I didn’t even try until I was well into my twenties.

BUT, there have been periods when I’ve feared and dreaded mealtimes. Particularly when she was younger, we’d sometimes go weeks where mealtimes were hell. She’d refuse to eat any of the food we cooked and instead lived off porridge. Dark times. Fair to say, there were tears, tantrums and throwing food – and that was just me.

It’s not that I’d necessarily call her a fussy eater – after all, she eats pretty much what we eat and we’ve always made a conscious effort to give her the same as us. I just think it’s the fact that she’s a toddler. There’s things continually happening behind the scenes – be it testing boundaries to see what she can and can’t get away with or even stuff like her taste buds developing.

So, if you’re having a bit of trouble with your toddler not eating, being fussy or unwilling to try new foods, here’s a couple of things which I’ve found help to make mealtimes that bit easier:

Get Them Involved

This is beneficial on two levels. Firstly, a kid always wants to copy and ‘help’ with whatever you’re doing, so you may as well embrace it. This can be anything – gardening, unloading the dishwasher, putting clean clothes away, cooking etc. Cheap labour too!

Secondly, when it comes to food, if they’re involved and bought into the idea of the meal, then they’re more likely to eat it. L has always been interested in cooking and baking, so we’ve tried to embrace that. As a result, we’ve found that she is happier to eat something if she’s been involved in the prep – even if that’s as little as weighing out the pasta.

Limit Snacks

It sounds pretty obvious, but if your toddler is being a bit fussy with food, then it might be because they’re not actually that hungry. They don’t have the biggest stomachs in the world, so if they’ve had a snack not long before lunch or dinner, then they’re more likely to mess around with food – or just flat out refuse it.

When she was younger, we used to give L snacks pretty much whenever she wanted them in order to avoid hangry outbursts. Now she’s older and understands though, we just explain that it’ll be dinner soon and we don’t give her anything after 4pm. As we tend to eat at 6.30pm, this gives plenty of time to ensure that not being hungry isn’t the reason for any mealtime dramas. Obviously snacks are great, but just don’t overdo them.

Mealtimes With A Toddler eating snack playing with doll

Have Fun

If everything is done with a smile and laugh, then mealtimes are going to be more pleasant for everyone involved. It should also mean a positive association with food, rather than negative. Yes, it may be difficult to remember to have ‘fun’ when you’re still sat at the table 45 minutes after starting, but try you must.

For us, it’s not uncommon to joke, dance or sing when eating – for instance, just the other day I changed the word “bear” in We’re Going On A Bear Hunt to “chicken and rice” which we chanted at the dinner table to get Toddler L to eat. The good folk at Organix focus massively on a fun experience with food, so here’s a few things they suggest to help fussy eaters with their senses:

Organix Fun with Food toddler activities


Hey, I’m not proud of this, but as every parent knows, sometimes needs must. When the main aim is to get your kid to eat some of the food on their plate, you get to a point where you’ll try anything. I’ve found that offering something they want for later works pretty well as a motivator to get them to eat now.

Whether it’s pudding, a glass of milk or something on TV before bed, Toddler L usually responds pretty well to added incentive. Obviously, my homemade paella, chili con carne or risotto should be incentive enough, but that is rarely the case. So, with sentences like “just eat five more spoonfuls and you can have a yoghurt” echoing around the dining table, bribery does pay.

Mealtimes With A Toddler eating chocolate and hot chocolate

So those are a few ideas of how you can hopefully improve mealtimes with a toddler. Have you tried any of these before? How do you go about getting your kid to try new foods? Let me know below.

Disclosure: This is a commissioned post in collaboration with Organix for #NoJunkJourney.