Food for toddlers – social time or war zone?

Food glorious food.

Has your opinion of food changed since having children?

Does the thought of the approaching meal time fill you with dread?Image of a 3 year old girl enjoying her sandwich

Have you spent hours doing nutritional research, despite lack of sleep and put a plate of food in front of your child that you knew would cover all the dietary needs of their developing bodies?

Have you been reduced to tears of frustration as they purse their lips up or spit it back out of their mouths again?

Did you feel like giving up and just providing the highly processed, beige gunk that you knew they would wolf down, smothered in a sickly-sweet red sauce?

We’ve all been there, at breaking point and wondering how something that we ourselves enjoy could provide such a painful experience.

Sadly, I don’t have a magic wand to wave and turn them into perfect eaters.

But, I might be able to help a little.

I hope to clarify some of why they behave how they do. I’ll throw in a few tips about what might be working against you, and how to change this. I’ll even let you into a few secrets about what we do at Robins.

You might decide it’s worth doing things a little differently.

It’s got to be worth a try. Surely.

Firstly, some key points.

You’re only feeding little people! Little people have little stomachs (about the size of a grapefruit). They really can’t eat much at any one sitting. Imagine how you would feel if you sat down to a double-sized platter of food? It would probably overwhelm you and put you off tucking in.

Eat a rainbow of food

Why not make the food visually attractive? You wouldn’t want to eat a pile of mush so why would you expect your child to? I don’t mean spending lots of time creating a dish suitable to win Master Chef. Just provide food of different shapes, textures, crunchy and smooth, slimy, dry and if time allows spend a moment creating a pattern. My son used to refuse sandwiches until I found a train cookie cutter. At 18 years old he now will eat any shape! He he.

Have you heard the saying “Eat a rainbow a day”, which means to provide food of varied colours? This can help make the food look enticing but more importantly, you will not have to think so much about what you are providing because it will ensure that they are getting a range of vitamins and minerals.

Their digestive systems are still developing and they need more instant energy than we do. A small child is unable to eat lots of wholegrain food. They are not yet equipped to break this down and process it. It means that it will go through their systems unused and so the child may be short of the copious amounts of easily available energy they need to grow.

Danger alert! Young children still have fatal accidents from choking on food. Cut up your child’s food so that it even if it gets a bit stuck on the way down it will not block their windpipe. A good guide is that your child’s esophagus is approx. the size of their little finger. Without fail, grapes should always be cut in half length-ways. I know it seems like a time-consuming exercise but when whole they are the perfect size and shape to turn into a lethal object.

Our eating environment.

NO distractions, TV, Ipads or phones at feeding times and if possible the table should be cleared of none food items.

18 month old child at high chair being fed
Food glorious food

Give your child the opportunity to use cutlery, plates and bowls as appropriate rather than stick to plastic baby/toddler utensils longer than necessary. A child needs to practice skills to improve upon them.

Begin to drink from cups and pour from jugs even if they are still spilling. Using protective table cloths and napkins. They will get better at this over time and it is teaching them get hand to eye coordination.

Please only use a bottle for milk and water. Dentist go crazy over this one. With juice or squash in a bottle in a very short time your child’s front top and bottom teeth will be worn away by the sugar in the drink. It can even damage the adult teeth that are still growing in the gums.

Social time

If you can make mealtimes a family affair that is great. It is often the only time when all the family can come together.

Try to keep mealtimes light-hearted. Its best to leave conversations of more controversial subjects until after dinner. It’s better for the digestion for all of us!

Don’t let food become the battleground or a weapon they can use against you. They only need tiny amounts of different foodstuffs to keep healthy and there are many ways of getting enough of the right nutrients into them.  A child will not let themselves starve so be cool, calm and consistent.

Adult supervising mealtimes with two toddlers with pants on their head
Having a giggle to get through mealtimes

Sit down and eat with them if you can. Why not join in with some sliced fruit and vegetables to provide companionship and support. I know this can be a challenge if you have lots to do and they are taking an age. However, do try to join them, at least for a while, instead of hovering over them to make sure they don’t choke.

Some children can take a maddeningly long time to eat their food. Pushing it around the plate before picking it up and playing with it before finally putting it in their mouth. Then rolling it around with their tongue and chewing for ages before finally swallowing one mouthful. It’s not them being awkward. Allow them the time. Decide how long you think is a reasonable time to show patience before finding something to do whilst you are at the table.

It can be a fantastic opportunity to role model to your children appropriate social behaviour. Not just about table manners and etiquette but also about how to engage socially, taking turns in conversation and listening and responding to others and having a giggle.

Step by stepSmall hands full of blueberries

 It takes at least 3 times of trying something new before their taste buds become accustomed to taste so don’t give up at first refusal.

Try to be chilled about their response but keep on offering. My favourite response is always the screwed up faces we get when slices of lemon are handed around. Give it a go, its hilarious.

Perhaps encourage a child to touch with fingers and then with lips, smell, lick, play with, chew and spit out (discreetly into a tissue if not at first agreeable). Still try again later.

What we do at RobinsApple cut across to show the star shape inside

We sit down and eat with the children both at lunch and snack time. Even if this means that we must keep jumping up and down to support all the children in our care.

Children copy what they see so we role model how to sit appropriately and how to eat and drink diverse types of food.

Conversation is made about where they think the food comes from, how it is grown and what other animals might eat it.

Food isn’t just delivered pre-prepared on a plate.

A whole pineapple will often be passed around with discussions about weight, texture, smell and guessing what might be inside before it is then chopped up for eating.

We also try to find diverse ways of presenting the food. e.g. an apple can be sliced across to show the inner star shape of the core and an orange can be made into smiley faces.

My top tips

Teach your child to wash and dry their hands properly and show to them how you always wash your hands before eating.

Toddler covered in juice after eating berries
Yummy berries

High energy but not high sugar

Don’t fill them up with milk or sweetened drinks

Little tummies so little and often

Eat a rainbow a day.

Be relaxed about it all.……your child will not starve

Heather x

I would love your feedback too so please feel free to comment.

You already are an expert on your own unique child but if you have issues that you are struggling with why not let us help? Your challenges are often the same as others so if you have some successes it would be great for you to share what worked for you and help everyone.


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