Friday, 22 May 2015

How We Handle Mealtimes With A Toddler

Encouraging your child to develop a positive & healthy attitude toward food whilst also helping them to adopt good table manners is no easy feat, and it was something that I worried about a lot once my son started weaning.

So far we seem to be doing ok, but I know a lot of other parents have the same worries that I had so I thought I would share our little tips on how we've managed meal times.

Encouraging & Not Assuming

We have been very lucky with Tyne as he's always been a good eater - he has never been fussy with food, infact we joke that he's quite a foodie as he'll try pretty much anything and there's so very little that he doesn't like.

The off-limits foods are, at the moment, limited to tomato (although tomato flavoured foods and sauce bases are fine!), cucumber and any other kind of salad/wet food (lettuce, onion, peppers...although he will eat onion & pepper when its cooked in a meal).

In recent weeks he has also started to state that he doesn't like spicy food, but will still eat and really enjoy curries and chillies.

He loves a lot of foods that I would expect him to dislike - such as mushrooms, broccoli and cabbage - which has taught me to never make assumptions about what he might enjoy, and offer him the chance to try any and everything. He so often surprises me with his choices!

When he does state that he doesn't like a food, I try to encourage him to at least try it by telling him that if he tastes it and doesn't like it then he doesn't have to eat it - and I will show him that it's ok to try things by demonstrating myself tasting the food in question and telling him (honestly) what I think of it.

I will never try a food I actually dislike and make yummy noises to encourage him - I don't want him to learn not to trust my judgement.

I think discussion about food and our likes and dislikes is important, and actually something that can encourage children to be more experimental. 

But I'm not going to lie and say that honesty is my policy 100% of the time! Sometimes I know that Tyne has simply decided he doesn't like a certain food and then doesn't want to even try it from that point on...for example he recently asked me during dinner what an item on his plate was...I told him it was a cherry tomato and he said "Yuk! Don't like 'matoes" and flung the offending tomato back onto his plate.

He then picked up a different cherry tomato and asked me what it I said..."It's a sunshine ball" (Don't ask me why a sunshine ball, it was the first thing that popped into my head!) he tried it...and said "Mmmm yummy!" and went on to eat all of the tomatoes on his plate.

Go figure!

Allowing Choice, Respecting Decisions & Making Food Fun

My approach when it comes to mealtimes has always been quite simple - I will never force him to eat something that he doesn't want to eat. 

I don't believe in sitting with children and trying to force them or cajole them into finishing their dinners or trying to bribe them with dessert - Personally I think that's just going to make a headstrong child more determined not to finish it! (That may well just be with my determined little Aries child, but that's my experience anyway!)

Instead I will put Tyne's dinner down in front of him along with his cutlery, and leave him in peace to eat it or not...whichever he chooses.

Often he will say he "doesn't like it" - I tell him thats fine and he doesn't have to eat it but I NEVER immediately remove the plate - instead we all go about finishing our dinners and leave him there with his plate while we do so - 98% of the time he starts to pick absentmindedly at the food on his plate and before he even realises it..he's finished it all!

 When he doesn't, that's fine - I won't force him - I used to think that the best thing to do in that situation would be not to offer an alternative - but I changed my mind.

Quite often I will make a meal only to sit down to eat it and decide that I don't like it - I won't then starve myself until the next meal time, I will make myself something else - so why should a child go without because they dared not to like something?

Instead I will offer one alternative, and if he refuses that then fine - he can't be that hungry.

I always try to give Tyne a toddler version of whatever we're eating, and I try my best to make it look appealing and interesting to him as I've found that this helps to get him excited about food and more willing to try new things.

He will sit down and eat a roast dinner or spaghetti bolognese happily because he's used to those foods, but when he's presented with a dish like the one above (which was chicken, veg and noodles), he's a bit reluctant as he immediately notices the peppers which he has set his mind on not liking - so when I make a face out of the food it takes the focus away from what the items are, and he is immediately more open to trying things.

I don't do this all the time as I don't want him to grow to expect food to always look fun, but I enjoy doing it occasionally.

Having Quick Options On Hand!

Sometimes of course, the meal that Jon & I are having isn't appropriate for Tyne - for example if we're having a takeaway or something particularly spicy - and sometimes we're just in too much of a hurry and there hasn't been time for get a nice well-balanced meal prepared in time for Tyne's dinner, this is something that's been happening more since Noah was born...and so for those times, I like to have some ready meals in that we can use which I know he'll like and I know are low in salt and sugar with plenty of veg and all high quality.

We were recently sent some of the Annabel Karmel range to try out - along with an EZPZ dinnermat, some OXO Tot cutlery and Annabel Karmel's Toddler Recipe Book.

Tyne loves these ready meals....He gets a good dinner and I get to not stress out about feeing him toast because I ran out of time in my day! Everyone is a winner!

He devoured all of the various options, but his stand out favourite from the range was the spaghetti and meatballs.

The Annabel Karmel meals are a staple in our fridge now, and something I will always make sure I am stocked up on for the days when, for whatever reason, dinner time just didn't go to plan!

They are available from Tesco & Sainsburys priced at £1.50 each or are often on a 3 for £5 offer.

More information is available HERE

The recipe book is full of great ideas and there are tons I can't wait to try, I'll be having a go at a few over the next few weeks and will be posting on how we got on with them and what Tyne thought.

The recipe book is available HERE for £6.99

Encouraging Good Table Manners

Aside from the eating itself, another important part of mealtimes is table manners and this is something I'm very keen on. I don't think there's much worse than bad table manners in a person!

To encourage Tyne's table manners, I try to make sure that we all eat together as a family so that he can see how I Jon & I do things - and of course make sure that we're on our best behaviour so as to set a good example!

We always make sure that there's no talking with food in our mouths, that chewing is done with our mouths closed, that please & thank you is always used when passing items around the dinner table and that cutlery is always used and held correctly - of course the latter is the most difficult part for a small child!

Tyne tries his best to use his cutlery but for many food items, he finds he can get it in much quicker using his hands and so that's what he does - I think he's still quite young yet so although we will encourage him to use his cutlery we won't tell him off if he's struggling - we'll simply try to help and encourage him to keep practising, but also allow him to enjoy his dinner which is the most important thing at this stage!

For sitting at the table, we have found that a high chair is no longer suitable for him - he wants to be at the table with us and is capable of sitting in a chair and reaching the table so a high chair is unnecessary.

However, he's not 100% ready to be left alone in a dining chair just yet as he tends to try to get down by himself and as our chairs are quite high and he's quite short - that isn't safe!

So we have been using the Totseat - which is a really fantastic fold away "highchair" of sorts - basically it attaches to a chair (compatible with most styles) and the child sits in it, so they're using a dining chair and sitting at the table but are secure in the Totseat so can't fall out or get themselves down. 

The Totseat is easily washable which is great, super easy to fold up and store taking up minimal space (a problem I came up against when using booster seats!) and can be rolled up and put into a changing bag for use when out and about.

You can even have them personalised!

For more details on the Totseat, please visit

Eating Out

Jon & I have always loved to go out for meals whenever possible and this was something that we were quite determined not to give up simply because we had children.

I so often hear parents say that they have stopped going out to eat because their children won't sit through a meal at a restaurant etc, but for the past 2 years we have eaten out regularly and Tyne enjoys it just as much as we do - and I firmly believe that this is because we have always taken him along with us and he has simply got used to the environment.

He has always known what's expected of him - that he sits and eats his dinner like he would at home, that he can go and play when he's finished if the restaurant has a facility for it - otherwise we'll leave after the meal and he can play then. 

He understands how to tell me what he wants from a menu, he knows that he can't scream and shout in a restaurant, and he has never given us any issues - he enjoys going to "rest-wonts" as much as we do (and always demands chips since we rarely eat them at home!), and we enjoy being able to continue doing something we enjoy as a family.

The one problem we do face at restaurants is that he doesn't understand having to wait for his food to arrive - so we always request that his meal is brought out with our starters, so that he isn't waiting around.

Most of the restaurants we visit are great with children and provide crayons and colouring sheets or fun packs to keep Tyne entertained while we wait, but I always take along some of my own just incase.

It's always worth checking a restaurant out before you visit to check how child-friendly they are - some of our favourite places to visit with Tyne who really know how to make dining with children easier include Las Iguanas, Le Bistrot Pierre, Bella Italia, Pizza Express & Giraffe.

So that's how we've handled mealtimes with a toddler so far! Fingers crossed it seems to be smooth sailing so far!

If you've hit any bumps in the road with toddler mealtimes and found a way to handle them, do let us know how or if you have any questions please leave them below! 

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