If you are experiencing mealtime struggles with your toddler, you are not alone. Whether your child has a disability or not, mealtime with toddlers can be stressful. From difficult behaviors and picky eating, to restricted diets and swallowing safely, feeding can be a tense time for parents and the child. Check out the tips and tricks below to help make mealtime less stressful fun for everyone.
A daily routine is very important for reducing stress as this helps the child know what to expect next, understand what is happening, and what is expected of them. Eating at the same time, in the same spot, and in the same way each time will help reduce problematic behaviors around mealtime. Below is an example mealtime routine you can implement in your daily life:
A great way to reduce the stress is to understand that there is a feeding relationship between the child and the caregiver. The child and caregiver have different roles at this time. These roles help children become healthy eaters.
It’s classic for children not to like broccoli. Why? It may be a different texture, temperature, or color, and depending on if it’s cooked or raw, a different consistency than what they are used to. Your child may not like the new food right away, and that is okay. Be patient and let the child investigate it on their own. They may need to see, touch, and smell the new food before eating it. Provide the new or less-preferred food many times across different meals as it may take at least 15 exposures to that food before the child accepts it.
Eating is a very social experience and a big part of any culture. Even if your child is a toddler, you’re a small family, or your child has a g-tube, include them in family mealtimes. This is a great time to model proper mealtime behaviors, positive engagement with food, and learn new eating skills. This is also a bonus opportunity to build language and social skills! Remove distractions, such as music, TV, iPad and phones, and make mealtime family time.
Hannah Schult is a paediatric speech-language pathologist at the NAPA Center in Boston. She has a passion for feeding therapy and helping kids improve their quality of life. When she is not treating, she loves to be outdoors, spend time with her family, and play with her dog, Teddy.