Toddlers are becoming more self-aware and independent, and one of the more obvious ways in which they like to assert their will and choices is through food preferences. While this can be somewhat challenging for parents, once you understand why toddlers behave the way they do around food, there are ways you can help yours discover, experience and enjoy new foods and flavours.
Understand your toddler’s likes and dislikes
It’s important to understand that toddlers’ food preferences are innate: they will naturally prefer salty and sweet tastes and reject bitter ones, just as our hunter-gatherer ancestors enjoyed an oyster or some wild honey, but avoided a bitter-tasting toxic berry. So toddlers may initially prefer a banana to the more bitter broccoli. Some toddlers also go through a normal phase called neophobia, where they will be unwilling to try new foods, preferring to stick with familiar ones. The good news is that you can help your toddler discover and enjoy new foods through repeated sensory exposure – seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting foods.
Expose your toddler to healthy foods daily
One way to help your toddler discover new food is to make it part of everyday life. When you’re out shopping with your toddler in the trolley, show them the food you are buying and talk about it - they could also help you choose it. Include food in play sessions - you could play shops and cooking games with toy fruits and vegetables, as well as singing songs and reading stories about food. Keep a fruit bowl on the table, and if you have space to grow some veg, what could be nicer for your toddler than picking a sun-warmed cherry tomato off a plant and popping it in their mouth?
Eat as a family
Family mealtimes are a great way to ‘model’ the enjoyment of new and different foods for your toddler. Modelling helps toddlers learn how the rest of the family behaves, so if they see everyone enjoying a wide variety of foods, they are more likely to copy the behaviour and try them as well. Toddlers who eat a wide range of foods with their families are also more likely to have a varied, balanced diet. Although it might not always be possible to eat as a family all the time, the more often you can do it, the better.
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Make sure your toddler is ready for their meal
Toddlers respond to routine. Try to make sure nap times are planned around meals so you’re not trying to give a new food to a tired and uncooperative toddler. Include plenty of play and exercise throughout the day so they enjoy their food and maybe try something different. Avoid snacks near mealtimes, and give water, not milk beforehand.
Create a sensory feast
Toddlers are more likely to enjoy their food and try new ones when they can play with, smear, squidge and feed it to themselves. Resign yourself to the mess, accept that this is an important part of learning to become independent, and encourage your toddler to play with their food. Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes with biscuit cutters, create forests of broccoli and cauliflower ‘trees’ and be thrilled when your toddler paints you a hummus masterpiece. Give lots of praise for trying a new food or one they’ve previously turned their nose up at – they’ll be more likely to eat it again. You might need to offer a food up to 15 times before your toddler finally decides they like it. Persevere – you’ll get there in the end!
Let your toddler decide when they’ve had enough
Your toddler knows when they have had enough, so take your cue from them and clear away in a calm, relaxed manner when they have finished. Try to avoid bribing, coercing, punishing, pressurising or trying to force-feed a child – this could be damaging, as negative associations with a food could put a child off it for good. Make mealtimes happy times to help your toddler enjoy different foods.
By giving your child lots of exposure to a varied, balanced diet and making food and mealtimes positive experiences, you can help set your child up to have healthy eating habits for life.
Aptamil Growing Up milks are tailored to your toddler’s stage of development. As your toddler begins to discover new foods, Aptamil Growing Up milks contain specific nutrients tailored to support their growth and development, as part of a varied, balanced diet.
Aptamil Growing Up milks contain:
- Iron to support normal cognitive development
- Vitamin D and calcium for normal bone development
- Iodine which contributes to the normal growth of children
Learn more about Aptamil Growing Up milks at Aptaclub.co.uk.
Advertorial brought to you by Aptamil Growing Up milks.