Create healthy eating habits

Of course you want your toddler to grow big and strong, but first you have to get them to eat their (dreaded!) broccoli. Here are some ideas on getting kids to eat healthy from the start.

Offer it again, and again

Rarely does a toddler like a food from the get go. It’s easy to assume your older baby or toddler doesn’t like a food if you’ve offered it a few times and they’ve rejected it. Don’t stop trying. Kids rarely like foods on the first try and it can take 10-20 offerings before they’ll eat a vegetable. Kids have to get used to not only taste, but texture and color as well. Try serving vegetables both raw and cooked, and pair a new food with one they already like to encourage an open mind.

Make it a game

There is nothing wrong with wooing your kids to eat by making food fun. Try cookie cutter sandwiches, sending carrots swimming in a pool of dip, or ‘broccoli’ trees that must be destroyed by your child, the dinosaur. Once the pandemic is under control, take your toddler to the grocery store with you. Let them choose a new fruit or vegetable to try, and engage them in preparing it. Kids are more apt to eat something they selected or helped cook. The same goes for gardening—when young kids plant seeds and water growing plants, they are invested in eating what their masterpieces produce.

Make mealtime family time

Think of meals as family-connection time. Doing so not only makes for good eating habits but leads to more success in life. Here’s some motivation to have regular sit down dinners: A researcher at Harvard studied family dinners for 15 years, finding that when kids and parents sat down and ate together regularly the kids were stronger readers and had better vocabularies than their peers. Another study found that regular family meals resulted in better scores on standardized tests at school. Eating together also lets kids see parents enjoying a variety of foods—something that’s vital in learning healthy eating habits.

Also, don’t force your child to eat. Your job is simply to serve a healthy meal, not to make them eat it. Bribing with dessert is also discouraged because it sets food up as a reward—something that can backfire later in life.

Serve well balanced meals and snacks

Toddlers can gravitate toward cereal and breads, but they need a good mix of carbohydrates (breads, crackers), protein (meats, eggs) and fats (avocados, nuts) every day to stay healthy and grow well. When eaten alone, carbohydrates make your child’s blood sugar levels spike, leaving him or her giddy and overactive, and then crashing with low energy or tears. Protein and healthy fats have a more sustained release of energy. Consider breakfasts that include eggs, beans, yogurt, cheese, meat and fruit for a solid start to the day.

When it comes to snacks, remember that toddlers need to eat frequently. While you don’t want to provide too much food, aim for something that balances carbs, protein and fats, like a few crackers with cheese or apple slices with a little peanut butter.

Stick to a few guidelines 

Know that toddlers might eat a bunch one day and not much the next. That’s okay as long as they have access to healthy food. To avoid becoming a short order cook, make it a rule to never serve your toddler something different than what you are eating. If they are struggling, tell them to choose two items on their plate and try at least a bite. Also, keep in mind that toddlers eat portions that are in proportion to their size. In other words, much less than what you are eating. It also helps to think about your child’s healthy food intake over the course of a week rather than a day. Finally, resist labeling food good or bad. Instead, talk about healthy foods and how they give your toddler the strength to play and have fun.