If just the thought of spending another dinnertime coaxing your toddler to eat just one more mouthful makes you want to pull your hair out, then you need to give these tricks a go this teatime.
Dinnertime is meant to be brilliant – right? It’s when you get to refuel, relax and tuck into a delicious meal with all the family. But when you have a toddler it can be a little more complicated. Particularly when he’s a fussy eater, a veg dodger or suddenly decides that the tomatoes/chicken/peas he’s always loved are now on par with spouts.
1. Hire a sous chef
Rather than shooing your tot out of the kitchen, encouraging him to get involved in the whole dinner process can make him more likely to eat it. Plus, cooking together is a great time for one-on-one bonding. You can also set your tot with the task of setting the table.
2. Avoid bribery
Coaxing and bribing your toddler with cartoons or chocolate so he’ll just eat a little bit more may seem like your only option, but it’s not the best approach.
‘Avoid making mealtime “deals”,’ advises Charlotte Stirling Reed, child nutritionist and founder of SR Nutrition. ‘If your child doesn’t eat after a reasonable amount of time just take plate away without fuss and offer it again later if they say they're hungry – try not to make mealtimes become a battle.’
Shake things up and serve dinner in a different way
3. Work that appetite
If it’s going to be another hour or so until dinner’s ready and your son’s already complaining he’s hungry, resist the temptation to placate him with a snack or glass of milk. Both will fill him up, meaning that he won’t want to eat his dinner once it’s ready. Instead, distract him from his hunger pangs by involving him in the cooking or getting somebody else to play a far more interesting game.
4. During-dinner games
Shake things up and serve dinner in a different way. ‘Put together an indoor picnic/buffet style feeding,’ suggests Charlotte. ‘Use a colourful tablecloth and cups to make it more interesting for your child.’
Even enlist the help of your toddler’s favourite toys as special dinner guests. You’ll soon get over the embarrassment of offering Ted another piece of broccoli when your toddler starts scoffing his own.
5. Be the best dinner companion
Imagine you’re cooking for your best friend (which, in a way you are) and enjoy dinnertime with your tot.
‘Lots of smiles and encouragement work much better than you getting stressed out,’ says Charlotte. ‘This will rub off on your child so try to stay calm and just gently encourage him with smiles and praise.’
Rustle up a toddler-friendly meal that you’ll both enjoy
6. Turn off the TV
Removing distractions such as the television and finishing games before dinner will help your toddler focus on eating his dinner, rather than racing back to whatever he was doing before.
7. Make an occasion of it
Even if you don’t normally, try eating with your toddler tonight. ‘There’s a big need for role modelling from parents,’ says Charlotte. ‘This is because children are likely to copy their parents.’
Rustle up a toddler-friendly meal that you’ll both enjoy. Need recipe ideas? Take a look at our recipe section for meals that are adaptable so they’re perfect for all the family.
8. Ditch the guilt
Last but not least, try not to feel guilty if dinner doesn’t go to plan tonight. There’s always tomorrow to try it again. And in the meantime, write down all of the foods that your toddler does eat, rather than the ones he doesn’t. Doing this will help you realise just what a good job you’re doing.
Try these tips tonight and let us know how it goes in the comments box below.