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Meal-Time Structure Matters for your Picky-Eater

It is not uncommon for toddler's to have a stage of becoming "picky-eaters..." but this does not mean it has to change what you cook for dinner, your meal planning or how you approach your child.

This is the time to make sure meal-times stay on a steady schedule and the table becomes (and remains!) the place for meals.

Create the Environment

The Feeding Environment matters - a lot! Toddlers are always learning new skills and thrive on routine. Having structure is so important in order for them to develop these skills and flourish. In addition to this, toddlers need to see the table as a fun and comfortable place to be. It's important to create that space a place they want to be.

After the environment has been created - the schedule needs to stay consistent.

Setting the Structure

  1. Meals should be offered at 3-4 hour intervals with water offered in between. Even small amounts of juice or milk can diminish appetite for the next meal.

  2. Offer your child 2-3 foods in small amounts that include at least two foods you know they have eaten happily in the past. If they don’t eat any of these, do not look for different options.

  3. Eat family meals whenever possible. Role modeling is probably the most powerful step you can take to help improve your child’s feeding behaviors. By watching YOU, they are learning what eating looks like and will model that action.

  4. Your child should sit at the table whether or not they are eating for at least 15 minutes. Tell them that they need to wait until everyone else is finished.

  5. Do not pay attention to whether or not your child is eating consistently at mealtime. Do not get frustrated or beg them to eat.

  6. If your child does not eat anything after 15-20 minutes, they should be allowed to leave the table if the family meal is completed. Nothing should be offered until the next scheduled meal or snack. If they ask for food soon after the meal, tell them that the kitchen is closed for now and then remind them when the next meal or snack is.

  7. Be creative when it comes to foods offered at meal times - try to ideas (breakfast for dinner!)

  8. Offer the highest calorie foods to your child first when they are most likely to eat them. Lower calorie foods such as fruits and vegetables can be offered towards the end of the meal.

  9. Start by aiming for one or two good meals a day. If your child seems super hungry at snack time, make sure you offer them something that is sustainable such as yogurt or a granola bar.

Parent Role:

As the parent, your job is to decide:

  • Timing (WHEN) your child will eat

  • Options (WHAT) your child will be offered to eat

  • Environment (WHERE) they will eat

Child Role:

It is your child’s job to decide how much they will eat.

Be patient, keep things consistent, and make sure the table becomes an IDEAL environment for your child to eat.

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