PostHeaderIcon How To Stop Toddler Food Wars

By Terez Howard

She hurls her milk-filled sippy cup to the floor in a mad rage and pushes her plate of pasta to the middle of the table while proclaiming, “I’m all done!” My 2-year-old’s favorite food and drink consist of milk and pasta. But why is it that today she refuses to consume what I know she loves?

Growing pains

Toddlers experience what I call adolescence in miniature. Just as a growing teenager discovers physical and emotional changes, a toddler too is learning how to express herself and how her demeanor affects others. Even though Micah usually gobbles down her pasta portion, for some reason, she wants to be contrary.

Most toddlers experience a period of time when they specifically contend with you simply because they can. They notice if they choose to battle at the dinner table, they get Mama’s attention. Recognizing these conflicts as normal parts of growth can help we mothers to endure the war.

We’re on the same team

Have you ever felt like your toddler has won the battle, but you know inside that you will win the war? I have. I’ve thought, I’m the mother, and you will do what I say. The problem with my mentality is that my daughter and I are on the same side. We both want to make one another happy. When she eats, she makes me happy, and she’s happy when she sees my smile of approval.

A toddler deserves a little victory song when:

  • She eats without being reminded that the table is where we eat, not where apple slices take a joy ride.
  • She tries a new food on her own.
  • She attempts to get her food into her mouth even when most of it ends up on the floor.
  • She devours her fruit and vegetables, even though she leaves the main course.
  • Or, drum roll, she clears her plate.

During toddler growing pains, a kid needs to feel the loving support of her parents. She needs to know that she has the power to not only make you mad, but bring you joy.

Give rewards

The idea of food rewards evokes controversy. Experts say to never use dessert rewards to get your kid to eat unwanted dishes. They say this teaches a child that vegetables and other undesirable foods are a punishment, while a sweet treat is the reward.

Well, experts, hear me. I am a mother, and I disagree. When I tell my daughter that if she eats just three more bites of peas, she gets a scoop of ice cream, she wolfs down those peas. The peas are never considered the bad guy by anyone. My husband and I talk about how eating just a little will help make her big and strong, statements she likes. When peas show up for an encore performance, Micah still is expected to eat at least a portion of them and may or may not get a dessert after doing so.

A dessert need not always be part of a meal, and desserts certainly do not solely appear as rewards in my household. My 2-year-old does not expect something sweet after every single dinner. If she is full after a meal and a cookie is put in front of her as a reward, she will not touch it on a stuffed tummy because desserts have never been played up with much fanfare.

The point? If you choose to give sweet rewards, use them sparingly and without a grand show.

Just breathe

Relax. Eating is a necessary part of life. If your kid misses a few meals, she eventually will eat again. My daughter has will go all day on nibbles, so when snack time rolls around, she’ll inhale a banana, scrambled egg and slice of cheese. I sometimes get nervous that she will make herself ill by refusing to eat. But she always, always, always eats again, and she’s fine.

Since she can handle flatware well, I put her food in front of her and try to not speak of it, creating a relaxed eating environment. No yelling. No anger. And certainly, no force feeding. We reward her eating attempts with smiles, hugs, kisses, songs, dances and treats. My husband, daughter and I have put the war behind us. We just eat.

3 Responses to “How To Stop Toddler Food Wars”

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