Yummy Toddler Food is one of our absolute favorite resources online for, well, really yummy toddler food. Whether it’s mini pumpkin muffins or baked chicken tenders, recipe developer, blogger and mom of two Amy Palanjian takes foods most kids like—like muffins and chicken fingers—and puts her healthy spin on them (for example, by boosting nutrition with hidden veggies or nut butter, and baking instead of frying). She’s also written several easy-to-use cookbooks and put together incredibly helpful downloadable guides for toddler eating. We asked Amy to answer that question every single parent of a toddler has asked themselves (sometimes multiple times a day!): “How do I get this kid to eat better?”
What are your best tips for getting toddler to eat well?
- Create mealtime structure. All kids, but especially toddlers, thrive on routine. So the more you can create structures around mealtimes (when they happen, where they happen, expected behaviors, etc), the better the outcomes will be.
- You decide what to serve. I know how strong the opinions of our toddlers can be, but it’s important that we not let their likes and dislikes dictate what we serve—because if we only serve the 5 foods they love most, that’s all they’ll eat. Aim to serve a variety of healthy foods throughout the week and don’t stress if your kids don’t eat every single one.
- The kids decide which foods and how much of them to eat. Once you decide what’s for a meal, stick to it. No getting up to make a second meal if your child says they don’t like it—instead, let the child decide what of the foods you served they want to eat, and how much. This philosophy of the Division of Responsibility in Feeding can be a game changer with resetting the power dynamics at the table.
- Don’t force, coerce, or bribe the kids to take bites. We want meals to be fun and light, not a stressful situation. And nothing good comes of forcing a kid to eat broccoli in the long run—and the goal here is to raise a healthy eater!
- Talk about things other than the food to take the pressure off! Change the subject if someone is upset about the meal. Ask about school, see if they can tell jokes. Distract, distract, distract. It may sound silly, but it totally works!
Are there “mistakes” you see well-intentioned parents making?
I think we all get too caught up in the bite-by-bite. I encourage people to look at their child’s intake over the course of a week, when you’re more likely to see balance. Kids can vary so much in terms of what they eat, and how much they eat, from meal to meal and day to day, that getting too hung up on one meal is a recipe for stress.
Are your daughters great eaters?
I like to call my kids enthusiastic eaters. They have definite likes and dislikes and their intake varies day to day. If my kids don’t eat a meal, I assume that it’s because they’re not hungry enough—not because they’re being picky—and we carry on. In my mind, it’s not a big deal if they eat more or less because they are the only ones who can feel their hunger (just like I am the only one who can decide how much is right for me to eat at any given time!).
What’s one recipe you have on repeat in your house?
We make my Fluffy Applesauce Pancakes again and again. I love that there is fruit right in the batter and that the kids are getting a sweet breakfast that they enjoy that also has fiber and vitamins. Plus, the leftovers reheat really well for quick weekday breakfasts!