Ask Sally: Kids & Food

Laughing toddler with mom
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Little ones and food — what they eat, what they don’t, what they won’t — it’s one of the most vexing topics for parents. With Mother’s Day approaching, and maybe breakfast in bed for mom(!), we asked Sally Tannen, Director of 92Y’s Parenting Center to talk turkey …

My 2-year-old was a terrific eater as a baby, but he has suddenly turned picky and barely eats more than a bite of this or that. Every meal now is a struggle, and I worry that is isn’t getting the nutrition he needs. Help!

This is one of the concerns I hear most often from parents of toddlers, and understandably – so much of early parenting revolves around food. It can feel confusing when the 10-month-old who was happy to experience every new taste won’t eat more than a few bites of something, and those on the fly. But it’s a completely normal development — toddlers are on the go, their appetites have diminished as their growth rate has slowed, and except in extreme circumstances, eating less needn’t be cause for worry. I do recommend having a structured meal routine at home, eating together with your child, making it an interactive and fun experience, always putting at least one thing on his plate that you know he likes, and continuing to introduce new, healthful foods, even if they aren’t immediately accepted. I also encourage limiting snacking, which is greatly overdone and serves neither of you well. Three small meals and two snacks a day is all a toddler needs. Don’t stress if your son doesn’t eat everything on his plate, so long as he has energy and is growing and developing. If you are ever concerned about that, you should, of course, talk with your pediatrician. Otherwise, remember that the goal is not a daily one, but to raise a healthy eater with a healthy relationship with food for life.

The takeaway: There are things you can (and should!) do every day to encourage good eating habits in your child, but taking the long view will help reduce your stress over it.

What are some ways to encourage my 3-year-old’s interest in food?

Babies are so wholly dependent on parents to “deliver” food to them, that it can be hard to re-orient your approach to food as your child grows. Even very young children can become part of the process of all that is involved in feeding the family. Get your child in the kitchen with you! Kids as young as two years old can begin helping with simple tasks — tearing greens, scrubbing potatoes, stirring batter and more, and when children are involved in food prep they become far more interested in eating that food. Take young children grocery shopping with you, and involve them in decision-making….

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