Practical Ways to Avoid Toddler Mealtime Mistakes

1-2 Years

Parents worry—it’s our job! And feeding toddlers gives us lots to worry about. Is she eating enough? Why is she so picky? Should I make her eat certain foods, even if she throws a fit?

Your toddler’s growing independence can make mealtime tough, so it’s natural to fall back on old-school myths to get her to eat right. Learn how to avoid these mealtime mistakes with proper food parenting, then start new traditions of your own to nourish healthy eating habits for life.

Mistake #1: one more bite

You’ve made a nutritious dinner that your toddler pushes around on his plate, but doesn’t eat. When he throws down his fork, you plead with him to eat a few more bites. Wait! Pleading with your toddler to eat one more bite can create an unnecessary power struggle. Around his first birthday, your little one’s appetite slows, so it’s normal for him to eat less. Instead, ask if he’s had enough to eat. Remind him that the kitchen is closing until the next meal or snack. Then stay strong, and only offer water until the next meal or snack time. He’ll get the nutrition he needs, even if he skips a meal.

Mistake #2: the clean plate club

Your toddler eats most of his food, but leaves a few bites. You hate waste and don’t want him to be hungry, so you say, “Clean your plate,” maybe even offering him dessert if he does. Your toddler’s body is smart: It knows just how much food it needs. Joining the Clean Plate Club or bribing your toddler with treats to finish every bite teaches him to ignore his body’s signals. Serve him a spoonful of each food and provide more if he asks, but don’t praise him if he cleans his plate.

Mistake #3: favorites only

It’s dinnertime, and everyone’s hungry. Your older kids are craving spaghetti, but your toddler shoves it away. You microwave his favorite toddler meal just for him. Great solution, right? Not so fast.

Playing it safe by only serving favorite foods sets the stage for the dreaded picky eating—and for Mom to become a short-order cook. Many kids need to see a new food 15 to 20 times before they’ll try it, so serve up that spaghetti with a side of his favorite veggie and fruit (so he’ll have something healthy to eat if he rejects the spaghetti). Who knows…spaghetti might become his new favorite!

Do your mealtime job (and let your toddler do hers!)

Parents want to teach kids healthy habits, but our toddler’s healthy eating isn’t entirely up to us! Mom and Dad should:

  • Serve meals and snacks at the same time daily
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods
  • Offer new foods along with her favorites

Your toddler’s jobs:

  • Choose what to eat from his meal
  • Decide how much to eat
  • Decide when she’s “all done!”

When everyone does their job, toddlers grow to enjoy lots of different foods—with fewer tantrums along the way!