How to Avoid Power Struggles With Your Toddlers During Mealtimes

By Shannon Gurnee
In Babies
November 30, 2021

Today, on Redhead Mom, I’m sharing a partnered guest post bout how to avoid power struggles with your toddlers during mealtimes.

How to Avoid Power Struggles With Your Toddlers During Mealtimes

Looking for ways to deal with your fussy child’s tantrums at the dinner table? Read this article to know how to avoid power struggles with your toddlers.

toddlers and mealtimePhoto by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

Toddlers are adorable little humans who learn new ways of communicating, quenching their curiosity by navigating their world and learning how to control for the first time. Generally, they don’t have much control over anything except when it comes to eating their food.

Parents need to devise a crafty way to steer their children towards healthy eating by giving them healthy food options to choose from. Toddlers are fussy eaters, and it can be pretty tricky to get them into a healthy diet. This article will discuss the ways to overcome the power struggle with your toddler during mealtimes.

Accepting Toddlers are Picky Eaters

Many toddlers would not like to eat a particular food served to them or want a snack with no nutritional value. By being picky eaters, they express their growing independence.  Keep in mind that if they do not like the food, they will not eat it. 

There are many cases where the child only wants to eat one thing, and parents feel there are no other options besides giving that particular food every day. However, eventually, they will get tired of the same food, and a new challenge arises, you have to find something else they would like to eat. If parents don’t give in, these “food jags” won’t last long.

Be Consistent in Introducing Healthy Food

To avoid such issues of serving the same food, introduce new foods and give them the option to choose one of them. You need to keep in mind that children will not starve and eventually learn to be more flexible. Give them various healthy foods along with their favorites and some new additions.

It would help if you were consistent, and your child might even surprise you by eating all the foods you served one day. Don’t stop serving a veggie that your child does not like. For instance, if your child doesn’t like carrots the first time, don’t stop serving them.

Don’t stop serving the food your child does not want to eat. Just serve small portions and encourage your kid to take a bite without forcing or nagging. It takes time for kids to accept new textures and flavors and continue reintroducing the food.

You can find alternative ways to feed the vegetable they don’t like. For example, if they do not like carrot slices, you can try serving them roasted baby carrots. They are more appetizing, and your child may like munching on them. You can experiment and come up with healthy lunch ideas or other innovative meals.

It will also be easier when you set a good example. Serve your favorite healthy food or a new item and eat with them. They will eventually follow your cue and try to enjoy the meal.

Avoid Bargaining for Bites

Some parents try to make their kids eat food they don’t want by bargaining with them. Some negotiate by promising desserts after a meal. Some parents threaten punishment against the child if they do not take a bite of food they are unwilling to eat. Both of these approaches should be avoided as it only worsens the aftermath in the long run.

Bribing with cookies and other sugary desserts creates the impression that such treats are more valuable than regular food. This establishes an unhealthy dependency on sugar. Threatening with punishments is also not adequate, and it can also ruin the relationship dynamics with the child.

To overcome such power struggles, always be patient and encourage your child to eat in a positive tone. Try to keep the mood upbeat during mealtime. You can try out the following tips to make the whole process easier.

Have Meals Together

It is best to have family meals together. The toddler will see her parents and siblings having the same food. They will get some inspiration and will try out the food. It also strengthens the bond and relationship dynamics. Having regular nutritious meals together as a family will also establish healthy eating habits.

Serve Appropriate Portions

Parents tend to overestimate how much food a child should eat. The oversized portions can lead to overeating and unhealthy eating habits. A couple of tablespoons is enough to start with, especially with food that is not their favorites yet. Besides being less overwhelming, smaller portions are easier to eat and digest.

Pay Attention and Listen to Your Child

You need to pay attention to your child’s actions and cues. Listen to what they are trying to say. If your child starts to drop food on the floor after eating some, they might be telling you that they are full. Kids will not know when they are full and overeat if the food is pushed back to be eaten.

However, this does not mean that kids should eat on-demand throughout the whole day. Kids might not learn what it is like to be complete or hungry if they eat all day. This is why snack times and set meals are important. When children get accustomed to timely meals and snack times throughout the day, they can manage their hunger and will be able to tell how hungry or full they are.

Allow Children to Feed Themselves

Children should start finger feeding when they are around nine months at least. When they are about one year old, they should try using utensils like spoons. The introduction of such independent feeding will also help them develop sensory processing skills and hand-eye coordination.

Make sure the utensils are child-safe and easy to grasp. Be patient and provide many opportunities for this. However, you need to ensure that your little one eats enough. Do not forget to praise your child when they get to take the first bite by themselves. Positive reinforcement is always key to teaching your child new skills. 

You also need to bear in mind that it can be quite messy when they are trying to eat by themselves so ensure they are wearing a bib and be prepared for cleaning up a lot. With time and regular practice, they will be less messy.

Help Them in Feeding Themselves When Necessary

When necessary, jump in to help them eat. But be mindful about their hunger cues and signs that they are full. You can always offer more food if your little one remains hungry, but you can not take back the food from their body when they are overfed.

When you are navigating the spoon or fork, refrain from slipping in one more bite. Please step back and let your child take over as they get the hang of eating by themselves. Some parents consider that it is not the best decision to allow children to feed themselves.

But this gives a sense of independence and control they should possess at this age. This will also help in the long run, and you don’t always have to stress over how to feed them every day. They need to decide whether to eat, how much to eat, and what to eat. This will help them identify the internal cues and instincts that tell them when they are full or hungry.

Refrain from Serving Junk Food

The growing bodies of toddlers need vital nutrients. Hence, they must eat healthily. Junk foods are not nutritious and should be avoided at all costs. These unhealthy foods like potato chips, candies, and sugary drinks like soda should not be part of the diet.

It is best to opt for healthy alternatives. For instance, instead of fried chicken, they can have baked chicken or chicken cooked in an air fryer. For sweet cravings, there are amazing fruits and fruit preserves that can be served to them. Instead of the regular chips loaded with the unhealthy MSGs, you can opt for kale chips or thinly sliced veggies that have been well seasoned and baked to crisp.

Do not have any junk food at home or introduce them to your child. This way, they will not have an option to eat them since they can’t run to the store and buy such unhealthy foods. From the beginning, encourage your little one to develop their taste based entirely on healthy meals and snacks.

If your child asks for candy or any other snack, tell them you don’t have any and then present them with various healthy snack options like apple slices with peanut butter or braised tofu. This will minimize the disappointment and reluctance of your child not getting candy. It will also let your child enjoy the sense of control from getting to decide which available snacks they can eat.

Make the Best Use of Seasonal Food Items

Besides the convenience and practicality, using seasonal food items at the nearest grocery store is a great way to teach your child to enjoy the local seasonal produce. You can make it delicious with fresh veggies and fruits like cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, berries, and so much more. The fresh produce has great flavor profiles and is also packed with nutrients making it easier to cook up delicious healthy meals that everyone can enjoy.

Final Thoughts

It can reasonably be tricky to deal with picky toddlers and their power struggle. Just be patient and consistent. Avoid bribing your child with desserts and giving punishments. Do not force-feed them, teach them to feed themselves and enjoy your meals together. Steer clear of any junk food and fast food items.

About Has 2151 Posts

Shannon Gurnee is the author of Redhead Mom formerly "The Mommy-Files", a national blog with a loyal following. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development with a Minor in Business Management. Shannon and her husband, Frank, have a large family with 6 awesome kids and love living on the Central Coast near San Luis Obispo, California, as well as traveling around the world. A full-time Social Media and Professional Blogger, Shannon also serves as a National Brand Ambassador for many well-known companies. Her blog focuses on motherhood, family fun activities, traveling, fashion, beauty, technology, wedding ideas and recipes while providing professional opinions on products, performances, restaurants, and a variety of businesses.

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