Most toddlers who are picky eaters have a normal appetite and exhibit age-appropriate growth patterns. Mistakes parents should try to avoid when feeding toddlers include watching TV at mealtimes, offering unhealthy snacks as a reward, feeding too many sugary foods, forcing the child to eat, serving portion sizes that are too big and other mistakes.
Approximately 25 to 35 percent of toddlers and preschoolers are labeled by their parents as “picky” eaters. The feeding and eating patterns of these picky eaters are a major cause of concern for their parents. However, the majority of these children have a normal appetite and exhibit age-appropriate growth patterns. Some aggressive measures adopted by the parents to make their children eat are actually mistakes that may cause the exact opposite. Children may lose interest in eating. Here are some mistakes that parents should try to avoid when feeding their toddlers.
1. Watching TV at mealtimes
Making the child eat during mealtimes by distracting them with TV and smartphones is one of the most common tactics employed by parents. However, the habit makes the matter worse as the child pays more attention to the distraction rather than concentrating on the meal. This may result in slow eating and not chewing their food properly. The toddler may even end up eating less than they could have eaten in the absence of distractions. Other distractions include toys and books.
2. Offering unhealthy snacks as a reward
This tactic is good to make the child eat healthy food, but this should only be done occasionally. Parents should not let their children acquire this pattern as a habit or else the child will never have food without getting their favorite food, such as a chocolate bar that is full of calories but lacks nutritional benefits. In the long run, this habit can increase the child’s risk of obesity, dental caries and diabetes.
3. Going overboard with sugar-laden foods
Several experts have pointed out the increased consumption of sugar in children more than in adults. This has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to recommend the limit of free sugar intake in children. The limit should be less than 10 percent of their daily diet. These free sugars include sugar added to foods, juices and honey. Parents should always keep the recommended level of sugar in mind while preparing desserts for their kids. Add healthy ingredients, such as fruits and nuts (avoid if the child has nut allergies) to make the dessert healthier and more filling for the child.
4. Forcing the child to eat
Parents should remember that eating is an enjoyable activity. Toddlers should not be coerced into eating. Threats or punishments do not contribute to healthy eating.
Many parents also force the child to eat more when their stomach is full. This is one of the common mistakes that parents make. Remember a child usually stops when they cannot eat more. Parents should look for signs of refusal, such as turning away from food and spitting out excess food. They should stop when they see these signs. Forcing or even requesting a kid to eat more food will make them less inclined to healthy foods over time.
5. Serving big portion sizes
Parents often forget that children need small portions and not big ones like adults. According to the American Dietetic Association in Chicago, increasing a child’s portion by one tablespoon per year is enough. Seeing big portion sizes can intimidate the child and discourage them from eating even normal portions. It may also disappoint the parents when they see much of the food on the plate not eaten by their kids. Hence, parents should make it a habit to offer child-sized portions to their kids. Serving food on a child-sized plate is a much easier option. If the child finishes everything on the plate, parents can add more.
6. Overfeeding with snacks and juices
Snacking and drinking juices throughout the day will only make the child have less room for the regular meals of the day. Rather, parents should reserve specific times for snacks and juices so that they do not interfere with the timings of the regular, healthy meals. Parents can opt for nutrient-dense snacks.
7. Losing patience early while trying new foods
Parents should not keep offering the same food to children often just because it is their favorite food. They should make their kids eat a variety of foods. This may mean exposing their child to a new food for about 10 to 15 exposures to increase their acceptance of that food. They should not lose patience and be frustrated when kids don't eat. They should keep offering all kinds of foods on their plate until they finally take interest and eat each one of them over time. However, remember not to adopt coercion.
8. Setting a bad example
If parents want their children to adopt healthy eating habits, they should themselves be the role models who do the same. Children observe their parents and may imitate them, including eating what they eat and how they eat.
If the child is eating very poorly and parents have additional concerns about their nutritional status and growth, they should visit the child’s pediatrician.