How Do I Simplify Toddler Mealtime?

by Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Last Updated: July 20, 2021

Having the words “toddler” and “simple” together in the same sentence may seem ironic, but toddler mealtimes do not have to be stressful! If dinnertime has ever come around and you have felt frustrated by your toddlers’ disinterest in food or request for foods not on the menu…read on!

It can be hard to serve meals to the littlest of eaters for fear that they won’t get enough. However, always remember that your job as the parent or caregiver is to simply offer the food. That’s it! You cannot decide whether your child chooses to eat or not! Can’t you feel the pressure lifting off you now?

If your child is a picky eater, you can make some small changes to the foods they are already eating to boost nutrients, decrease your stress, and prevent the “short-order-cook” cycle when it comes to mealtime.

How to Encourage Your Child to Try New Foods
It can be easy to slip into a rut with mealtimes by providing the same few meals, over and over, that you know your child will eat. However, the best way to prevent picky eating is to expose your child to a wide variety of nutritious foods that you want them to be eating. Even if they don’t even touch or try the food-- your job is to expose them!

For example, if you want your child to try spinach but they only eat chicken nuggets and fruit, try serving a spinach salad with dressing and cheese at the next opportunity alongside the nuggets and fruit. Your child may not try the spinach at first, and that is okay! Keep trying to introduce the spinach. After a few weeks of adding a spinach salad to their meal, your child may smell the spinach or may even give it a try. The goal is to keep exposing them to the new food.

An important note to remember is that bribing or pressuring a child to eat does not work and typically has the opposite effect. Try to be neutral at mealtimes by placing the food in front of them and moving on. No bribery required!

How to Plan a Balanced Meal for Toddlers
  1. Balance what you offer by including a protein food (meat, dairy, nuts, or beans), a carbohydrate food (such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, potatoes, or rice), fruit, veggies, and some healthy fat (like avocados, nut butter, or olive oil).
  2. If your child does not like meat, offer other protein sources like beans, nuts, nut butter spreads, tofu, cheese/other dairy, or eggs.
  3. Keep it simple! Think about providing 3 out of the 5 food groups at each meal for balance rather than worrying about serving the “right” thing every meal!

5 Toddler Meal Ideas to Try:
  1. Whole wheat pasta + parmesan cheese + broccoli
  2. English muffin pizza with cheese and sauce + sliced strawberries
  3. Scrambled eggs + mini pancakes + sliced banana
  4. Frozen waffle + peanut butter + blueberries
  5. Low sodium deli turkey + whole wheat tortilla + spinach

Summary

Remember that your job as a parent is to present a mix of balanced choices to your child. Although it can be tough to see your child leave food on their plate or refuse food, remember that you are doing a great job by exposing them to various nutritious options! If you need help with picky eating or feeding your child, make an appointment with one of our Kroger Health Dietitians today!

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.


Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily Harland, RDN, CSO, LDN

Emily is a passionate clinical dietitian who strives to make nutrition changes sustainable while improving peoples’ relationship with food. She makes every effort to get to know each one of her clients on a personal level to ensure whole-person care. Emily is specialized in nutrition for oncology and cancer prevention/treatment. She has expertise from diabetes and heart health to hormonal health and fertility issues. Emily is an avid indoor cyclist and loves spending time in the kitchen cooking up nutritious and energizing meals.