One of the items on my weekly list of important expectations for myself is to establish healthy eating habits with my kids. This season of raising littles is like growing a garden: This is the time to plant the seeds and nurture the habits you want to see flourish (even when it looks like things are not growing as expected right now.) Even when I started solids at 6 months, establishing health eating habits were a top priority for me. Now that my girls are getting older, the fruits of that labor (literally) are paying off. Hopefully another mom and toddler can benefit from some of our household tips and tricks for establishing healthy eating habits!
Disclaimer: None of this applies if your child has medical and or allergic needs. I am not a nutritionist or pediatrician, so be sure to consult your child’s doctor for any special circumstances.
Establishing Healthy Eating Habits With a Baby or Toddler
- We found a lot of success with baby led weaning. I did make tons of homemade purees for each of my babes, but they very quickly learned they would rather independently eat than eat off my spoon. The hardest part for me was learning the difference between gagging and choking with new textures.
- Offer baby/toddler a variety of things that you and/or your spouse may or may not eat. This one can be challenging! We are often creatures of habit, and my husband is also a picky eater. It is important to ensure that you are not making any choices for your kiddos regarding eating based on your own adult habits. After our kids started eating, my husband and I got into trying several new dishes and eating along with the kids. We/they may not like everything, but they are more willing to try things and have a wider palette if they see variety and see you eating it too.
- The number one thing that I practice with my kids that I think is absolutely starting to become the norm is instilling the difference between a meal and a snack. My daughter would prefer to eat “Nacks” all day long than eat a meal. In our house, if our child does not want to eat whatever meal has just passed that is fine. However, that meal is saved in the fridge and is the only snack option the next time they ask. If they are actually hungry, they very quickly eat the meal and move on. If they do not want it and keep asking for a snack, they are looking more for the snack enjoyment rather than to satiate hunger. It does not bother me if my daughter’s bedtime snack is a chicken taco or green beans. If she is hungry, she eats.
- Something healthy-ish is fine when needed. As working parents, if dinner time hits and we are unprepared with a finished family dinner, I reach for some go-to easy meal options for the kids and eat dinner with my husband after they go to bed. My girls love eating organic minestrone soup, frozen vegetables with light dressing, eggs and veggies, or frozen greek yogurt bites for dinner. Assess what food groups they have missed the most that day and call it dinner, regardless of what it is.
- If you know your child is picky, serve food in courses. I know one of my daughter’s prefers noodles over all else, so at meal time, I serve her veggies or protein first and the noodles come last.
- Talk to your kids about what foods are better for your body compared to others. We do not talk about foods in our house as off-limits or good and bad, but we talk about which foods give us more energy than others or make us strong or calm. We do not want to set them up with any negative associations with any foods, but to simply be aware of the effects of different foods on our health.
- This one sounds silly, but we do not use treats or dessert as a condition of meal time eating. As a family we offer dessert and treats as any other family, but we do not set up a reward for eating a healthy dinner first. Enticing children to eat healthy in order to get to dessert can be difficult to break. Work through dinner however it works that day, and head out for a family ice cream when the mood strikes! Just don’t communicate it beforehand.
- Don’t associate being “good” with healthy eating habits. If you compare your kids and comment on how “good” one of them is for eating their food, it does the opposite in instilling positive eating habits for all your kiddos. All kids are good, and some take more effort with eating than others. Celebrate dinner as a family event but not by competing for who is better.
- Dips can be your best friend with a toddler. And I use the term “dip” lightly. Our kids love to eat any and all veggies when they can dip them in greek yogurt, hummus, light dressing, or barbecue sauce. Ketchup is a staple, and of course maple syrup is a winner.
- Establish go-to easy healthy options and do not be afraid to repeat them if your kids will eat them. Go-to options for us each week include frozen organic veggies, homemade frozen greek yogurt bites, eggs with avocado and veggies, hummus with veggies, brown rice with black beans, and crockpot veggies soups. Kids do not necessarily need to eat differently every week. If they love certain healthy foods, stick with them! Experiment with those same foods in different recipes or presentations.
As a working parent or stay at home parent, establishing healthy eating habits for your toddler can take time and investment. Some kids are quicker to adapt than others, but establishing healthy eating habits does not have to be stressful. Try things one at a time, and have high expectations for your babes. They will adapt to more than you expect them to if you give them the chance. Get those veggies cooking and into those little bellies! Shoot me a message with some additional toddler recipes to add to my stash.
All the best,