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Toddlers are not known for being easy to feed. They are often fussy with food, they fidget in their chair or run away from the table and they sure do make a mess! But you can make mealtimes easy and promote healthy eating at the same time.

Sound too good to be true? Here’s five simple steps for making mealtimes with your toddler easy:

1. Stock a healthy fridge and pantry

If everything in the fridge and pantry is healthy then when little hands open those doors you can let your toddler enjoy making her own food choices. If you want to keep treats in the house then hide them well away from little eyes until it is treat time.

2. Eat healthy yourself and always offer your toddler some of whatever you are eating

This is the easiest way to give your toddler the opportunity to taste a range of varied, healthy foods. When dishing up dinner, put a little bit of everything on your toddler’s plate or within her reach. Remember, this is about offering only. It is fine for your toddler to say ‘no’.

3. Experiment with toddler-friendly healthy food

There are lots of recipes for toddler-friendly food out there so experiment and discover what your toddler likes. Fruit smoothies are often popular. Meals where vegetables are unrecognisably cooked into the sauce also work well. And of course, there are also easy snacks like pieces of cheese, sultanas, watermelon and natural yogurt.

4. Let your child decide when to eat, how much to eat and what exactly to eat off her plate

Yes, that’s right, no more finishing the plate. No more begging her to eat a vegetable. Just serve the meal and clean up the leftovers at the end. Sound too easy? It is actually healthier. Children who are allowed to regulate their own eating are less likely to develop unhealthy eating habits later on. They’ve been allowed to develop an important life-long skill: the ability to eat when hungry and stop when full. If you are wondering how you’ll ensure that your child is getting a healthy diet in the meantime, remember that you’ll do this by stocking a healthy fridge and pantry and experimenting with toddler-friendly healthy food. There may be days when she eats no fruit or vegetables at all. But don’t panic. She’ll probably make up for it the next day by eating a bowlful of pumpkin soup, a fruit smoothie and half a watermelon.

5. If necessary, let your child graze. 

Some toddlers, usually the ones who are more interested in food, will happily sit at the table at mealtimes. But others fidget and throw food or even run away from the table. It is not easy to get a finicky eater to show good table manners. If getting your toddler to sit at the table has become a nightly chore then why not avoid the agony and eat picnic style? If your toddler is able to graze, eating a little of her meal, then playing, and then returning to her meal she may end up eating more. There will be plenty of time for learning table manners later on.

toddler” image from Shutterstock
  • really looking great

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  • Great tips – thank you for sharing

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  • Agree. I’m a big advocate for step number two.

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  • This is all very sensible advice. Keep eating and food relaxed has been quite challenging, I’ve found.

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  • Interesting and informative article, great tips and points. thanx.

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  • I think this is a perfect plan for most people to eat in moderation

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  • This is so true for adults too, ( Sweets and treats) if it isn’t in the cupboard or fridge you can’t eat it. If I don’t buy yummy stuff I can’t eat it.

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  • I like to keep the fruit bowl full.

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  • I had a child that was very ill for a long time so when he started eating i made sure that he could eat when he was hungry. I always had healthy fruit and vegetables cut up in a container that he could eat at will and always had dried fruit and nuts available. he had days where he wouldn’t stop eating and other days where he just ate the same meals as us. I made certain he didn’t get access to sweets and his occasional (once a month) treat was to choose what flavour was to be added to his small tub of icecream. He always chose berry puree.As a consequence when we go out he eats healthy and leaves the refined sugar products alone.

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  • Our 1 year old Naughties are great eaters and will try anything — my Mother’s Day breakfast of poached eggs, potato rosti and smoked trout was demolished by them!

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  • a very interesting read, I never make my kids eat it all, that is how we get fat people by force feeding

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  • Lucky for me the only thing my kids will not eat is mushrooms.

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  • I have a 1 year old and the way I get her to expand her variety of food is by constantly offering and encouraging her to taste the food I am eating. She loves it and thinks its fun to eat like a big girl off mums plate.

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  • Thank you. As a Nana I love accessing your tips to help me enjoy my grandchildren even more. Don’t want unnecessary fussy behaviour with food so this is very helpful. I do put snacks out on a tray and invite them to put snacks in their bowls. Maybe I should do that with lunch as well and model trying foods. My only real rule for eating is “Sit down for eating” because I don’t want them running around with food in their mouth. They are not allowed to choke on my watch! More often than not we eat outdoors.

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  • having lots of fresh and healthy food on hand really is the key

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