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  • Writer's pictureMegan Wachowicz

Taming The Mealtime Tantrums

Updated: Dec 24, 2021

Ever feel like you work in Jurassic Park, only to have a raging pterodactyl violently hurl his/her dinner back across the table at you after you have slaved away at the stovetop?

Does your pterodactyl seemingly sit on her throne meticulously critiquing how the wrong colour of plastic plate has been used? Maybe his spaghetti bolognaise has (ARRRGGGH!) carrots in there, or maybe they both refuse to eat their whole plate of rice because broccoli has touched (1/20th ) of the chicken in the meal?

Are you tired of the mealtime battle?

The whirlwind toddler years are a very exciting and busy time for children and households. Here we see toddlers begin to learn skills and behaviours related to food and eating, develop attitudes toward food and display characteristics of ‘fussy eating’ which can be quite daunting for parents. Many parents start to worry that their child is not eating enough. They start to worry that their child will never eat anything that resembles a vegetable or worry that they are not doing what they ‘should’ be doing as a parent to ‘make them eat their dinner’.

This can result in power struggles or ‘battles’ between parent and child at mealtimes and make mealtimes rather unpleasant (to put it politely).

If you are experiencing this at your mealtimes, firstly, at Fresh Nutrition, we hear you. Be comforted in knowing that you are not alone! Possible reasons (thankyou science) contributing to why your child has seemingly morphed into a dinosaur may include:

  1. Although your child grows very quickly in the first 12 months of their life, their rate of growth slows down in the second year of their life. Because of this, their appetite decreases, and they may begin to refuse foods more often because they are simply not as hungry (hence, sometimes we could be expecting too much of them in terms of how much we serve).

  2. Toddlers begin to develop their independence at the same time that they often develop a fear of new experiences and hence, new foods. Because of this, they are more likely to refuse foods that they have not seen or tried before.

  3. Toddlers are more capable of expressing their likes and dislikes (oh, you reckon?) and therefore are also more likely to practice this new skill at mealtimes. You might notice that there is seemingly no logic to what they are expressing (argh, but they liked this meal last time!) however, it makes perfect sense to them!

It is therefore very normal for toddlers to begin to refuse foods and very normal for toddlers to eat varied amounts of food from day-to-day. It is also normal for toddlers to be easily distracted, easily upset, easily influenced (as they are still trying to understand the world they live in… just like us adults) and all of these factors come into play at mealtimes.

Ok, so now here are some actual practical tips to add to your toolbelt.

We do know (dear parent of pterodactyl) that you have tried so many things, and what ‘works’ one day (or with one child) might not just ‘work’ the next, but let’s explore these options (or try them again):

  1. Firstly, and probably one of the most challenging in this whole scenario is to try to keep yourself calm. Raging pterodactyl adults do absolutely nothing for the baby pterodactyl who is looking up wide-eyed for guidance, support, awareness, comfort and learning from your every move. (geez, no pressure, right!).

  2. Try to provide meals and snacks in a structured, routine environment where you can. This will make toddlers feel secure and know what to expect around food. Routine usually provides a sense of ‘control’ in an ‘uncontrollable’ world to toddlers (who doesn’t like control?).

  3. Do continue to practise your role in offering a range of healthy foods to your child and let them decide whether they will eat it and how much they will eat. Use a range of colours, textures and shapes of food to make meals look appealing (but you don’t need go all Picasso on the plate, keep it simple for yourself!)

  4. Try to keep your language ‘neutral’ and calm, with aim to take the focus off the ‘issue’. Dinosaurs may be more likely to take a little lick of a new food if they do not feel like the spotlight is on them, and do not feel they are being nagged to do something (quick quiz: Q1.what is often a toddler’s favourite word when ‘told’ to do something?, Q2. As an adult, do you like to be nagged?)

  5. Do give children choice in their food intake and meal environment where possible. For example, let them choose between two types of fruit or two sandwich fillings, let them choose their plate, their cup too. However, avoid letting them choose between, for example, fruit (healthy option) and chocolate (less healthy option) (it’s not rocket science what will happen there, ladies and gentlemen).

  6. Understand that a child may need to see a food 6-7 times before they taste it and may need to taste a food 10-15 times before they like it. To Nurture this, allow your toddler to touch, smell and taste food as toddlerhood is a time of exploration (pull out the paper bag now to assist your breathing if you don’t like mess!).

  7. Aim to be a positive role model. Children learn by watching others. This includes their family and friends. Eat with them, eat what you are offering to them. Don’t have different expectations on them than the adults or other children in the house.

  8. Do not force your child to eat. Children will not starve themselves. They have a natural ability to know when they are hungry and when they are full. Forcing children to eat will only override this natural ability, confuse a child and could set up poor life-long food habits. Take a look at that tiny little fist they have, believe it or not, this is the size of their stomach! (I know you just looked at your own fist, right?)

  9. Aim to set a rough time limit on meals (20-30 minutes) and snacks (10-20 minutes) so that meals and snacks don’t simply drag out to be ‘all day grazing’. This will enable little tummies to have a break and become hungry again for the next meal.

  10. Avoid allowing your child to consume too much milk. This will fill your child’s small tummy quickly and therefore they may not be hungry to eat at the next meal. Toddlers should not drink more than two to three cups of milk each day.

  11. Avoid distractions when your toddler eats. Turn off the TV and remove toys and games from sight. Practising this encourages mindfulness with meals and reduces ‘over-stimulation’ (mindfulness is something a lot of adults are actually rather deficient in).

We are passionate about happy, healthy mealtimes for families at Fresh Nutrition. For some families we understand that such issues with children can also be related to other physical health issues, psychological issues and development issues and may not be as simple as the child being in a ‘phase’. Please bring in your Pterodactyls (or the whole dinosour family!) if you have concerns and worries and we will be more than happy to lend a supporting hand, shoulder, and plan of action to help you out.

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