Rules of the Road When Feeding Toddlers

September 21, 2016

Nutrition is key for achieving your optimal health and that is true for your toddler too.

As a parent the thought of being responsible for what, when, where and how your child eats can sometimes be overwhelming.

In order to shed light on the rules of the road for feeding your toddler, we’ve asked expert pediatric nutrition researchers Susan Johnson, Ph.D., and Laura Bellows, Ph.D., MPH, RD, to answer commonly asked questions so that you can feel good about the foods your family is eating. By the way, Dr. Bellows is also a mom and a registered dietitian — triple the credibility!

What are your top three recommendations to help parents foster healthy eating habits for toddlers?

Dr. Bellows: 1) Be positive – encourage children to try new foods. Be careful your encouragement does not turn into pressure to eat. 2) Make it a win-win. Give your child some simple choices (e.g. who gets what color cup) so they feel they have a say in mealtime. 3) Keep it simple. Kids like plain foods they can identify.

Dr. Johnson: 1) Believe in yourself as a parent and trust your child to know how much to eat and when it’s time to stop. 2) Look to establish routine and consistency for your child’s eating — it’s so important for young children. 3) Create a vision for your child’s healthy eating and offer opportunities and set expectations for your toddler to achieve those goals. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying! Patience and persistence are key.

Why is it important for parents to model healthy eating behaviors?

Dr. Bellows: Kids love to mimic mom and dad. Being a good role model and eating the same healthy foods as children helps establish expectations for your toddler and decreases food battles. As important as it is to eat food, don’t forget to talk about food – where it come from, what color it is, its texture, etc. Talking about foods and teaching your child new vocabulary words can help to make trying new foods fun.

Dr. Johnson: Children learn in lots of ways. Sometimes it’s by exploring on their own, but often it’s by watching what you do. When you model healthy eating for your child, they learn and internalize your family’s norms and habits. “Do as you say” and you could improve the chances that they “do as you do.”

If you want additional information, here is a great resource to help guide you in making decisions on how to feed your child in the first two years of life. This document, Airplane Choo Choo, was developed together with the American Academy of Pediatrics and National Dairy Council.