When it comes to food, your child will probably begin to show real likes and dislikes between the ages of 2 and 3. But his sudden finicky habits aren't necessarily a sign of disobedience. They are more likely a reflection of his growing independence. Your toddler is beginning to discover more about himself and what makes him different from other people and he's excited about expressing these differences.
By now, he can communicate effectively and is learning how his reactions can, to some extent, control what happens around him. He's also beginning to discover that he has preferences, from clothing to books to green vegetables. Follow these suggestions and you'll not only give your child the opportunity to explore his tastes, you'll give him a solid foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating:
Avoid arguing over food. If your child says she's full, allow her to leave the table or to join in family conversation until everyone else is finished. Appetites do fluctuate from day to day; just because your toddler cleaned her plate after one hard day's play doesn't mean she'll do the same the next day. If you require clean plates before your children can leave the table, be sure to fill your toddler's plate with small, manageable portions.
Stay one step ahead of your toddler's appetite. Say no to sugary snacks within two hours of meals. If your child says he's hungry, offer healthy alternatives: baby carrots, applesauce, cheese slices, or yogurt. Don't prepare special meals for your child if you already have something else planned for the rest of the family. While it's good to acknowledge her preferences, it's important that she learn to try new things. If she refuses to eat, don't make an issue of it. Simply tell her that this is her meal and allow her to decide if she'd rather try it or be hungry.
Make mealtimes fun. Prepare foods that are easy to eat, like apple slices, cubed fruit or meat, hardboiled eggs and other finger foods. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes or make smiley faces with the mustard. As your child's motor skills improve, let him help with the preparation. He can put the meat on his bread, spread jelly with the back of a spoon or help peel an orange.
Let your child make choices. Acknowledge your child's growing ability to control her environment by letting her pick one or two parts of her meal. Say something like, "We're having grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Would you like a banana or a peach with your sandwich?" You'll give her a sense of control while also helping her make healthy choices.
Be patient. Even if your child will eat only baloney for three days straight, remember that most kids get adequate nutrition over the course of a week or two. As your child matures and his tastes and preferences stabilize, so will his reactions to food.
Writer, mother of two
Walk and Talk
When is a walk not just a walk? When you maximize your toddler's natural curiosity and make a stroll to the park a lesson in imagination. Asking your child a few open-ended questions along the way can start her thinking about cause and effect, relationships between objects, even the creative nature of God.
The next time you're out and about, ask your child some simple questions, like:
? "What is the color, shape, and size of that bug? Why do you think God made it look that way?"
? "Why do you think those people are doing that?"
? "How far can you kick a stone?"
? "Where are those raindrops going?"
? "Why do you think those flowers are growing there?"
? "What will happen if we toss a pebble in that puddle?"
? "Can you name the colors in that rainbow? Do you think God had fun making it?"
? "What do you think that cloud looks like?"
Youth worker, mother of two
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