In part 1 of this series, we discussed some of the underlying reasons for why toddlers and young children can be so picky and challenging to feed.  Part 2 describes 10 practical tips which will (hopefully) help to  improve the meal and snack times for your family.  Keep in mind, I have never met a family that has successfully incorporated all 10 tips into their daily meal routines.  So please don’t feel badly if you do not succeed with them all.  I would estimate that most families, after incorporating 4 or 5, start realizing significant improvement within a few weeks.

10 Tips to Promote Healthy Eating 

1: Plan Regular Meals and Snack Times
Children are less ambivalent about eating when they know when to expect the next meal.  Offer 3 meals a day (even if they will not eat) and 2-3 small snacks.  The meals should be around the same time every day. Give small snacks about 2 hours before the next meal. A snack should be much smaller than a meal. An example of a small snack could be 1-2 crackers and a little piece of cheese, a small piece of fruit or a yogurt. Avoid allowing food or drink between planned meals and snacks.  It is important for children to feel the sensation of hunger to motivate eating.  This can only happen if sufficient time passes without any eating or drinking.

2: Serve Meals in the Same Place
Try to always serve meals in the same place such as the kitchen or dining room.  Children eat better when they eat with their family or with other children rather than eating alone.  As often as possible, eat your meals with your child so that you role-model healthy mealtime eating behaviors.

3: Set a Time Limit
Allow 30 minutes for meals and 15 minutes for snacks. After the time is up, take any uneaten food away. Do not comment about how little she ate.  If you are upset or angry, try your hardest to not convey these emotions towards your child.

4: Do not force your child to eat
Do not force your child to eat as this will more than likely make the situation worse. Also, avoid using toys, TV or playing games to get her to eat as she may feel that she is being tricked into eating. If she is able to feed herself then let her do so, without trying to feed her yourself. If she needs help, be sure to give her a spoon too so she feels more control over her eating.

5: Offer Small Portions
Do not put too much food on the plate. Start with half portions of food and offer seconds when your child wants more. When too much food is on the plate, it may intimidate and make your child eat less.

6: Make the meals pleasant
Encourage your child to play with her food. Encourage and celebrate mess. Always clean up after the meal is over, instead of during the meal, so you don’t interrupt the flow of eating.  Always wait until your child’s mouth is open and ready for more food before offering more. If your child feeds herself, let her decide how fast she wishes to eat within the 30-minute time limit.

7: Say Only Good Things at Meals or Nothing at All
Saying “well done” will encourage your child to continue trying to eat more. It is much better to ignore if your child eats little or nothing at a meal. Just calmly take away the food with no comments. This will take the pressure off the child, will make mealtimes more pleasant and will eventually improve her her eating.

8: Cut down on Juice, Pop, and Milk.
Fluids like milk, juice, and sweetened beverages contain. Even though the sugar may be natural, too much of these drinks can fill up a little tummy and make your child less hungry at meals. Limit juice intake to 0-4 ounces.  Limit milk intake to 16 ounces, given at the end of a meal.  She may have as much water as she likes.

9: Offer Favorite Foods Once a Day
If your child only eats a certain food, offer it for one of the three meals. Try a variety of foods at the other meals that she is able to chew. For example, if the only meat your child will eat is chicken nuggets, give them for lunch or dinner and offer what the rest of the family is eating for the other meals. She will soon learn that separate foods will not be cooked for her and that she must choose from whatever is prepared. Over time, she will learn to eat different foods.  Avoid giving children too much choice at a meal or snack. Offer 1-2 choices only. Also, getting used to new food may take a child several tries/days. It is best to offer new foods one at a time.

10: Trust Your Child That She Will Eat
Your child knows how much to eat. It is very normal for a child’s appetite to change from day to day. For example, a child may eat poorly for a few days and then on another day, eat so much that they make up for the times they ate so little. So leave it up to your child to decide how much to eat and leave it to you to decide what’s cooked and how mealtimes are handled.

This post is a slightly modified version of the NYGH Pediatric Nutrition Program’s document entitled: My Toddler Won’t Eat. Tips for promoting healthy eating habits.