Feeding Toddlers: 8 Common Mistakes Parents Make

A picky eater or a toddler that won't eat at all can be frustrating for a parent. You may have read a stack of books or asked fellow parents what they have done, but feeding your child is not a one-size-fits-all process. Here's how to avoid feeding pitfalls and keep your child on track with lifelong healthy eating habits. By: Toby Amidor, MS, RD

Mistake #1: Force Feeding

If you think forcing your toddler to eat a food they don't want is a good idea, think again. You and your little one will end up upset and confused. This tactic will backfire as they will end up disliking both the food and mealtime.

Instead: Don't make a big fuss when the child refuses a food. The less of an issue you make of it now, the less of a fuss you will get the next time. Wait a little bit, and try again with a happy, positive attitude.

Mistake #2: Being a Short-Order Cook

Many parents fall into the trap of being a short-order cook to please a table of picky eaters. Concerns about starving their children, and stunting growth and development in the process drive the urge to cater to their every mealtime whim. But cooking on demand sends the wrong message.

Instead: Plan meals with at least one item you know the child enjoys. Kids are more likely to partake in the meal if they helped plan or prepare it. For example, if your child loves mac and cheese, but dislikes green vegetables, have fun making a dish of broccoli mac and cheese together.

Mistake #3: Insisting on Finishing Their Plates

Parents typically give larger portions than necessary or serve snacks (especially juice) too close to meal time.

Instead: Aim for 1 tablespoon per age of your child for each dish (about 2 or 3 dishes). So a 2-year-old child should receive 2 tablespoons each of carrots, rice, and meatloaf. Also, serve snacks about 1½ to 2 hours before mealtime. Instead of focusing on a clean plate, encourage eating until they're full.

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Mistake #4: Ignoring Food Preferences

Toddlers have many more taste buds than adults (we lose them as we age). Something that may not be spicy or salty to you may be too much for your child. The same goes for bitter-tasting foods like spinach and broccoli.

Instead: Be considerate when they tell you they don't like a food. Also, go light on big flavors when cooking for children.

Mistake #5: Giving Up Too Soon

Don't assume that if a child rejected a food once, that he or she will never like it again. It takes about 20 times of exposing the child to a food for them to accept it. Do not give up so easily or remove the food from the child's diet.

Instead: Present the food often and allow the toddler to play with it. This includes touching the food and allowing the child to put it in their mouth and spit it out. Over time they will accept it.

Mistake #6: Feeding Inappropriate Snacks

Snacks should contain nourishment needed for proper growth and development. Serving cookies and candy bars regularly will get them used to eating high-fat and high-calorie foods.

Instead: Plan balanced snacks that include fruit, veggies, protein, whole grains, or dairy products.

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Mistake #7: Using Food as a Reward

This technique typically rewards the kids by using high-fat, sugary foods. It may seem like the easy way out now, but it's sending the tot down the wrong path of not-so-healthy eating habits. Also, using sweets as a reward gives the child the idea that sweet food is desirable, where as other healthier food is not.

Instead: Reward your child for good behavior (not for eating their veggies) with non-food items like a trip to the park, a bubble bath, or extra play time.

Mistake #8: Not Regulating Sugary Fluids

It is recommended that toddlers drink a maximum of a ½ cup of 100% juice per day. Any more than that only adds sugar and may result in your child not being hungry for his or her scheduled meals.

Instead: Get them used to water early on. Or consider mixing ½ water ½ juice instead of all juice to space it out.

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