Feeding your Toddler

by Dr. Laura Markham

bite of appleWant to help your toddler develop healthy eating habits? Offer only healthy food. There's no reason your little one needs sweets or junk food at all.

But even more important than what your child puts in his or her mouth is a healthy relationship with food. You want your toddler to be in charge of eating, so how much he eats is not a loaded issue.

The Real Schmear on Feeding Toddlers

Capturing a balance to insure that your little one is getting proper nutrition with that fear that they *must* eat something can be tricky. These tips can help avoid an ongoing "food war" at every meal.

The Rule of Thumb on Feeding Toddlers

You choose what foods he is offered
Your child chooses how much to eat, what to eat and how to eat it

Why? Because each of us is born with inner signals that tell us how much we need to eat. When we override our children's innate knowledge, we handicap them for life, and set them up to be unable to regulate their own eating. Don't fight about food. Don't obsess about quantity. Toddlers don't need much. Many of them eat a lot one day and very little the next. Kids don't starve themselves.

Your goal? To give a child a sense of control over food, which will eliminate power struggles and later eating disorders. At the same time, of course, you want what is eaten to be healthy.

Your strategy? Wait as long as possible before introducing sweets. Offer a variety of healthy foods at each meal. Let your little be in charge of getting the food from plate to mouth. And if your toddler is anything like mine, use a splat mat, and dunk in the bath after each meal!

What about snacks? Toddlers' little stomachs need numerous smallish meals throughout the day. That means snacks, but it doesn't ever mean unhealthy food. The best toddler snacks are simply smaller portions of food you would be happy to see them eat at a meal: healthy crackers with cheese or peanut butter, cut up fruit, soup, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, steamed broccoli.

Many toddlers are too busy during the day to eat enough and ask for food at bedtime. This can drive a parent around the bend, unless you build a bedtime snack into the schedule – which also often helps kids settle down and sleep better. You can combine it with the bedtime story if you’re short on time, but bedtime snacks for toddlers are always a good idea.

Worried About a Picky Eater?

Most toddlers go through a picky stage. There's an evolutionary reason -- toddlers are "programmed" genetically to only eat familiar foods because unfamiliar foods could be poisonous. Those toddlers who were adventurous eaters probably didn't live long enough to pass their genes on to us, so we most likely come from a long line of picky toddler eaters!

Don't make extra food for your toddler at dinner because you're bound to resent it and it sends the wrong message. Just serve a variety of healthy foods and let them decide what to try. If your dinner isn't toddler-friendly -- if, heaven forbid, all the food is touching in a casserole, for instance -- then put some simple extras on the table, such as cheese slices, hard-boiled egg, or vegies with ranch dressing for dipping.

Don't worry that your child will always be a picky eater. That's rare, as long as they have an array of healthy foods from which to choose, and don't get addicted to junk food. Eventually ALL kids come to enjoy the foods they've seen their parents eat.

As both a mom and a Clinical Psychologist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Dr. Laura Markham offers a unique perspective on raising kids. Her relationship-based parenting model has helped thousands of families across the U.S. and Canada find compassionate, common-sense solutions to everything from separation anxiety and sleep problems to sass talk and cell phones. Dr. Markham is the founding editor of AhaParenting, where she regularly takes on a wide range of challenging questions from parents who struggle with "the toughest, most rewarding job on earth." Dr. Markham lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, New York, with her husband, daughter and son.