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: getting your toddler to eat “one more bite”

The situation: 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.

The problem: Pleading with your toddler to eat one more bite can create an unnecessary power struggle. It is normal for your little one to eat a lot or sometimes a little at mealtimes as his body continue to grow.

Try this 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: inviting your toddler into the clean plate club

The situation: 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,” or maybe even offer him dessert if he does.

The problem: Encouraging him to keep eating when he’s already full teaches him to ignore his body’s signals. Plus, bribing him with a treat teaches him that some foods are “better” than others and that he can get what he wants if he puts up a fight.

Try this instead: Offer him a small serving of each food and provide more if he asks, but don’t praise him if he cleans his plate. Trust that your toddler knows when he is hungry and when he is full.

Mistake #3: only serving your toddler her favorites

The situation: It’s dinnertime, and everyone’s hungry. Your older kids are happily eating the family meal, but your toddler shoves it away. You fix a quick peanut butter and jelly sandwich to get her to eat something. Great solution, right? Not so fast.

The problem: Only serving favorite foods—especially when your child throws a tantrum—sets the stage for the dreaded picky eating and for Mom or Dad to become a short-order cook.

Try this instead: Be patient (we know that’s easier said than done!). Many kids need to see a new food 10 to 15 times before they’ll try it, so serve up that casserole with a side of her favorite veggie and fruit (so she’ll have something healthy to eat if she rejects the casserole). Who knows … that casserole might become her new favorite!

How to get your toddler to eat healthy

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 around the same time each day
  • Serve a variety of healthy foods
  • Offer new foods along with her favorites

Your toddler’s jobs:

  • Choose what to eat from her 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!