Beyond Milk: Feeding Toddlers

Mom feeding toddler

Hi! We are Gal and Lauren, friends, and CoFounders of The Mom Juice, an empowerment network helping moms to prioritize self-care by making it more accessible in their daily lives. Over the next few months we will be sharing our different personal experiences and approaches to the same major parenting milestones.

This month, we are focusing on feeding our toddler twins. We had very different experiences introducing solids, and we’re happy to share more about our journeys through baby led weaning, purees, feeding therapy and OT if there’s interest! But we had an opportunity to ask the wonderful ​Nicole Silber​, RD, CSP, CLC, a few of our feeding concerns that you may be struggling with too. We hope that her responses and top tips can be helpful and empowering for us all!

Question 1 (Gal):​ I fall back on ‘if you don’t at least try everything on your plate you don’t get dessert’. I hate using bribery! What other approaches or language do you suggest?

Answer 1 (Nicole):​ While it’s a tempting strategy, remove dessert and bribery from the equation. The more a child hears that they have to try or eat something, the more of a burden that food becomes. And, the more they hear dessert is a reward, the more they will seek it. Instead serve accepted and lesser accepted foods together, and don’t say anything! Let the toddlers decide if they want to try it. Crazy, right? It usually takes a lot of exposure and minimal pressure for them to eventually try new foods. And ideally you also want to be eating these foods to model for them.

Question 2 (Lauren):​ My twins are 4 years old. I spend a lot of time and energy making fun, healthy, colorful plates for them…but no matter what I do, they refuse to eat anything except pizza and chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs (must be shaped like dinosaurs, ugh). At what point is it okay to throw in the towel and only make the food you know your kids will actually eat…without feeling guilty?

Answer 2 (Nicole):​ As a mom myself, I understand the frustration in putting in effort and time into something that feels like a waste. But, it isn’t a waste! The goal for kids is exposure, not consumption. I’m not a big fan of kids’ recipes because that can lead to more frustration. Instead of focusing on making them foods you think you’ll like (which may end up in the garbage), focus on making things that you (and your partner) enjoy and serve those foods to the kids. I like to go by the 1/3 rule – always have at least 1 item on their dinner plate that they’ll eat. This way you can feel like they are eating, while also exposing them to less accepted foods.

Question 3 (Gal):​ Another challenge I have is keeping the kids focused on mealtime so they eat until they’re full. Once one child finishes, he or she runs off to play and then the other one wants to rush off to play too, but then is hungry when it’s time to go to bed. I try to keep everyone at the table until everyone finishes their meal but it’s really hard. I try telling them stories and engaging them in conversation but that’s hit or miss. How else can I keep them engaged at the table during meals?

Answer 3 (Nicole):​ This can be tricky for toddlers! Toddlers have very small attention spans, and that is normal. They usually don’t need to eat as much as parents think they do, so just a few minutes at the table could be sufficient for them. They are pretty good at knowing what their bodies need. In the morning, let them know about a new house “rule” – they have to sit at the dinner table for a set time (it can be 5 minutes to start) even if they are done eating. Timers can be really effective here. Every week add on another minute or two. Remind them of this rule before dinner starts.

Question 4 (Lauren):​ I am prepared to be slapped on the wrists for this, but my kids watch TV during dinner time, especially during the week because I’m usually still juggling work through their dinner time and can’t engage with them at the table. We make a point to avoid this during the weekend, but truthfully, when the TV is on they always come right to the table and eat their food. How bad is it to incentivize kids with TV during meals?

Answer 4 (Nicole):​ Ideally meals are screen free so that the kids can interact and engage with family and the food! Otherwise they become more passive eaters and that can interrupt their ability to feel hunger and fullness. But as a parent, you also have to survive! Perhaps begin to wean them by having a few minutes of TV instead of the entire meal. You’ll find they will not stay at the table for as long and possibly not eat as much, but those are both OK because again kids are very good at knowing how much food their bodies need.

Nicole’s go to tips for making feeding less stressful:

Offer smaller portions especially of foods that are not as easily accepted.

I am talking about one stalk of broccoli or 1 pea. If they want more, of course give more. But, it’s less wasteful so you’ll feel less frustrated if they don’t eat it.

Eat with your kids.

You are less likely to hover over them and try to “get” them to eat if you are eating yourself. Plus, they learn through modeling and imitation.

Use the freezer!

Frozen produce is just as nutritious, and takes less time to make because it’s already prepped. And, so many foods like soups, cooked beans, meatballs, burgers, pancakes and even cooked grains like brown rice and quinoa freeze really well.

Manage your expectations.

Know that toddlers are consistently inconsistent, and it is rare for them to try a lot of foods and finish their food. Knowing that they need less food than you think you need can help free you of feeling like you have to “force” them to eat.

For more feeding wisdoms, feel free to reach out to Nicole: R​ [email protected]​ and sign up for her ​Tiny Tasters​ course!

We look forward to sharing more with you about our journeys and welcome any questions/comments @​themomjuice! ​

Lauren Carasso is a lifestyle expert, self-care advocate, and full-time working mom. Her professional background includes nearly 15 years in public relations working with entertainment and lifestyle clients. She is passionate about meditation, fitness, yoga, matcha lattes, and taking advantage of all that living in the NYC-metro area has to offer. Originally from New Jersey, Lauren currently lives in Westchester County with her husband, David, and 3-year-old twins, Alexander and Bella.

Gal Shyli is passionate about all things fitness, wellness and ‘mom life’. She is a HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator, pre/postnatal exercise specialist and motherhood coach who runs Embrace: Birth and Beyond. Self-care and community have been paramount in her life as a mom, and she hopes to empower others to prioritize both as well! Gal currently lives in Westchester with her husband, Seth, her 2-year-old twins, Lev and Shai, and she is expecting baby number 3 in May.

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