Linda Lewis Griffith

Avoiding the dinner table wars

Toddlers poke at their food for a lot of reasons. Frequent snacking means they may not be hungry at mealtimes. Caloric requirements may be low because of a plateau in the growth rate. Inherent restlessness makes sitting still nearly impossible.

They’re also starting to test their limits. Refusing certain foods is the perfect way to begin exerting control.

Moms and dads can unwittingly make the problem worse by engaging in power struggles with their tots. As any parent of a toddler knows, rationalizing with a 2-year-old is a futile endeavor. Arguing quickly turns meals into a war zone and seldom improves the situation.

While toddler eating habits are annoying, they don’t predict future problems. And healthy children aren’t going to starve if they skimp on a meal or two.

Rather than obsessing about their toddlers’ culinary quirks, parents should consider their youngsters’ long-term relationship with food.

The ultimate goal is to help kids make wise dietary choices and develop lifestyles that promote physical and emotional health.

To this end, wise parents involve young children in all aspects of the eating experience. They talk about healthy choices while shopping at the grocery store. They visit farmers markets so kids can sample fresh fruit and berries. They bring tots into the kitchen and let them prepare portions of their own meals. They may even plant a garden so children see firsthand the seeds-tosupper phenomenon.


Limit snacks. Discourage free feeding. Provide a few healthy snacks throughout the day.

Schedule meals. Routine mealtimes help tots regulate their eating behavior so they’re hungry when food is served.

Give toddlers a choice. Ask directed questions such as, “Do you want sliced bananas or oranges? I’ll let you decide.”

Serve new foods first. Kids are hungrier at the beginning of the meal.

Offer only one new food at a time. You don’t want to overwhelm tiny taste buds.

Offer new foods many times. It may take up to 12 samplings before a new flavor is accepted.

Encourage kids to take one bite of a new food. This prevents them from refusing a food without ever trying it.

Serve food plain. Avoid sauces or fancy preparations. Most tots prefer simple foods.

Don’t feed picky eaters after dinner. Once toddlers are down from the table, they’re finished eating. If they didn’t eat enough, they’ll eat more at the next meal.

Be a good role model. You set the stage with your own eating habits. When you eat a wide variety of foods, your family is likely to follow suit.

Make meals pleasant. Dining should be a bonding experience. Focus on light, enjoyable topics, not what the toddler is or isn’t eating.