04 Sep Introducing Foods to your Toddler
Are you being Persistent with your Toddler?
Many parents find feeding their young children can be quite challenging. Often toddlers around 2 to 3 years show a variable interest in food. It is absolutely natural for a toddler to be curious around food – especially with what you happen to be eating, only to spit it out when given a taste!
When feeding toddlers patience and persistence is key. Toddlers do not associate food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for them and encouraging healthy eating habits through positive experience is key for developing healthy life-long eating habits.
Food for a toddler is all about ‘experience’:
• Colour: a range of fruit and vegetables is very colourful and interesting to look at, thus appealing to the toddler, use this to your advantage by presenting food in simple fun ways.
• Texture: what does it feel like, is it cold, is it easy to ‘mush’ up in fingers, is it hard and good to chew? This is a giant exploratory experience for a toddler……be prepared for things to get messy!
• Flavour: a toddler has very simple taste compared to adults. The sweetness of fruit is very appealing and is more preferable than vegetables; however do persist with the vegetables. No need to add salt or butter, just keep it simple.
• Appearance can mean everything, as mentioned colourful food is appealing, but children can dislike a food simply based on its appearance without even tasting it. This is obviously frustrating as a parent. Try finger food such as cucumber cut in strips, strips of capsicum, kiwifruit rounds. Easy to pick up and munch on for little fingers developing dexterity and exploring texture.
As mentioned, children can reject food on site, food neo-phobia or fear of new foods is common, particularly with vegetables. This rejection may be associated with the colour of a food that does not ‘look right’ and a toddler may need up to 15 taste experiences of the food before accepting it. Yes, 15! So persistence is key and vitally important. Keep offering your curious toddler healthy food. Even if half of it ends up on the floor, a quarter ends up on clothing and a quarter in their mouth, it is success! Toddlers do not differentiate between meals or snacks, so food offerings at any time are acceptable.
• While you are preparing a meal, offer a stick of carrot or slice of cucumber. It keeps them amused and creates an incidental food tasting opportunity.
• Do not worry if your toddler doesn’t seem interested in food. Their appetite is variable and self-regulated at this age. A toddler will let you know if he/she is hungry.
• Try to plan meal times together as a family. These experiences of shared meals are social and fun, enhancing the positive experience of eating. Often a toddler will go through a phase of wanting what mummy or daddy has – from your plate, even though they have the same. Allow this and let the toddler choose what they desire, you are their greatest role model and learning to make decisions is a part of a toddler’s sense of developing some autonomy. Remember wanting food from your plate is just a phase!
• Try to keep experiences positive and fun. Don’t force food upon a toddler, just let it go. Create another opportunity and offer the food again. Fruit and vegetables vary in taste and quality, the way we cook the food varies and a second or third tasting may be a very different experience. Taste buds are also changing and developing and food preferences do alter over time.
• A spoon is good for sweet potato mash and again, another exploratory experience in texture, taste and co-ordination, likely to be messy! Offering utensils to the toddler is great for development and being part of the family.
• Toddlers are very interested in everything, keeping the family table social and free of other distractions such as phones, television or toys will encourage your toddler to eat and stay at the table.