6 clever ways to tackle your toddler's dinner without a food fight

Kinderling News & Features

"But I don't liiiiiike it!"

That’s the sound of your toddler throwing a spanner in the works when it comes to meal times. 

Just when you think you have your little one pegged in the food department, they completely change the rules! While this keeps you on your toes and makes life interesting and all those other cliches, it’s also just a little bit annoying.

Working out the reasons for these changes comes down to these main areas, according to Kinderling’s Mothercraft nurse, Chris Minogue:

1. Go back to basics

“Your first priority is to work out whether you're offering your toddler too much food in the wrong time frames,” says Chris. 

“We often snack-feed our toddlers now. (As in, we let them graze all day). So first, cut them back to three meals a day and see if they eat better. It may just be an issue of helping them avoid filling up on snacks.” 

2. Check your timings 

A ‘typical’ toddler’s eating day should go something like this: 

  • 7am: Breakfast
  • 1:30pm: Lunch (This is early to avoid them becoming over-hungry later in the day)
  • 4:30-5pm: Dinner

On the days that you are home together, try and stick to this routine and just offer water to them in between meals. 

“Check how much milk your toddler’s drinking - toddlers can fill up on milk. And also, a banana will affect the quality of their next meals, as they’re filling. So try not to offer these too soon before a main meal either,” says Chris. 

Foolproof snacks for kids with Mandy Sacher on Kinderling Conversation

3. Watch your serving sizes  

For toddlers who attend daycare, forcing a main meal at night can be a traumatic experience for everyone concerned. This is because they've usually eaten a substantial meal at lunchtime. Opting for a simple sandwich or egg on toast are great suggestions, rather than a large evening meal. 

“Hold back the carbs on the plate at dinner time, just put down the protein and the vegetables. And keep your focus on how much they’re actually eating, not the amount of food you’ve put on their plate,” says Chris. 

4. Environment

Eating is a social activity, so don’t expect your little one to sit quietly and eat in a room on their own. 

“Sit down and speak with them as they’re eating - make it a nice part of your time together,” says Chris. 

“Another way to do this is to arrange all the food you’ll be eating in a bowl in the middle of the table, and ask them what things they’d like to eat. This makes meal times a positive experience.”

5. Don’t be a short order cook!

Yes, that exclamation is there for a reason! Chris says no parent should be making more than one meal per night. 

“Put down one family meal on the table. Give them 20 minutes to eat it and get up after that. And don’t reward them for eating what they eat. Just sit calmly, cut things up if they need you to, and wrap things up when the time comes.” 

6. A little word on dessert … 

Chris says it’s important not to put values on sweet foods. 

“Once a week, give them a treat if they’ve been 'good'. For example, you could try doing a family movie night and everyone gets an ice cream cone or some popcorn. That way they don’t associate certain foods with behaviour - it’s just an experience.” 

On really bad days, it can help to remind yourself that our toddlers are at one of the most exciting developmental stages of their life - their personalities are developing. 

So while it feels demanding at the time, remember that all of this fussiness is just a part of them becoming themselves. 

Oh, and keep a dish cloth at the ready!