Mealtime Solutions for Your baby, Toddler, and Preschooler

by Ann Douglas

Looking for ways to encourage healthy eating and sidestep "food fights" with your baby, toddler, and preschooler? Here are some solutions drawn from Mealtime Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler: The Ultimate No-Worry Approach for Each Age and Stage (Wiley, 2006).

Everyone is giving me different advice about when to start my baby on solid foods and what foods to start with."

What to try
Start solids around age 6 months. Choose an iron-rich first food (iron-fortified infant cereal is the first food chosen by most parents, but there are other options, like serving your baby meats, poultry, fish, tofu, beans and other legumes, and egg yolks).

Wait a couple of days before introducing each additional food. This way, if your baby shows signs of a food intolerance or allergy, you'll be able to pinpoint the source of the problem more easily.
• Consider making your own baby food, both for financial reasons and to make it easier for your baby to adjust to your family's diet.

"My baby is having a hard time figuring out how to use her sippy cup."

What to try
• Take the valve out of the sippy cup until she gets the hang of using a sippy cup.
• Try a plastic cup with a built-in straw.
• Stick with water as much as possible, both to minimize the mess to avoid dental problems and "toddler diarrhea." (Treat juice as a breakfast drink exclusively and you won't have a problem.)

"My toddler just picks as his food."

What to try
bull; Toddlers grow at a much slower rate than babies. This is why toddlers have less of an appetite than babies.
• Toddler food portions are only ¼ to 1/3 the size of an adult-sized portion.
• Some toddlers fill up on juice, milk, and other liquids. Ditto for snacks. (Snacks should be mini-meals.)
• Let your toddler decide how much to eat. Most healthy children won't starve themselves. However, there are situations when children can run into trouble, so it's best to have your child checked by a doctor if you're seriously concerned.
• Keep a food diary for about a week, taking note of everything that your toddler eats.

This will provide a much more accurate idea of what she is -- or isn't -- eating than if you were to track her intake for a single day. Use a digital camera to make the job easier.

"We can't get our toddler to stay at the dinner table once she's finished eating."

What to try
bull; Accept the fact that your days of leisurely wining and dining are over for now. (You're in the whining and dining phase now!)
• Keep your child engaged in the mealtime conversation rather than trying to carry on a one-on-one conversation with your spouse. She'll be entertained longer that way.
• Teach your child that she can't get up and down from the dinner table like a yoyo.
• Excuse your toddler when she's sure she's finished eating, but let her know that she won't be getting her dinner plate back. She'll have to wait for her bedtime snack if she decides she's still hungry.

"My child isn't hungry first thing in the morning, so he doesn't like to eat breakfast."

What to try
bull; Get your child up a little earlier so he has a bit more time to wake up.
• Watch the size of your child's bedtime snack. That could be curbing his morning appetite.
• Serve a quick-and-easy breakfast: e.g., a small serving of cereal with milk or a serving of yogurt.

"My child dawdles over her breakfast every morning."

What to try
• Factor dawdle time into your morning schedule.
• Let an egg timer or travel alarm clock keep track of the time instead of you.
• Plan your routine so that you can be doing other things while your child is finishing her breakfast. (Note: Never leave a young child unsupervised, due to the risk of choking.)

"My child wants to eat all kinds of sugary treats for breakfast."