3 May, 2021
Eating in front of toddlers
Why making healthy choices is important
Children love to mimic what other children and adults do. Once they’re toddlers this becomes all the more obvious! They may only need to see something once or twice to start re-enacting it. It’s no wonder that when our child/ren watch us eat, they copy our actions and also want whatever is going in our mouth!
Tips on eating around your toddler
- Eat when and what they eat: Eat when they eat and ideally, similar to what you are feeding them (mainly once they are toddlers). Have breakfast together. If its pancake day, make them for both of you. Your child will try and reach out and eat what you are eating and this way you can happily share knowing they have the same in their plate. This can create a positive environment around food and allows you to set healthy habits early.
- Add extra vegetables: Add extra vegetables into the main dishes, whether it be whole vegetables or pureed options. This ensures that every mouthful of food your child consumes is jam packed with nutrients, for you as well! If your child refuses to eat it, that’s okay, maybe seeing you eat and enjoy it a few times could be the encouragement they need.
- Eat slowly: Eat slowly using cutlery so your child can learn to mimic your behaviour. Chewing your food is a great mechanical action that children can improve on by watching you!
- Show your enjoyment: By showing children you are enjoying your wholesome meal can give them the social cues to do the same.
- Small sips throughout the day: When it comes to drinks of choice, I would recommend drinking water especially in front of children. Take frequent sips throughout the day so they know to do the same.
- Set your schedule: Aim to eat 3 main meals and 2 snacks a day, so your child can see this and follow suit. If you’re a grazer and go to the pantry/fridge every minute then your toddler will see and may want to follow that behaviour. If you set out when your meals and snacks will be then your child will learn when food time is.
What if I’m not hungry when it’s time to feed my child?
Make yourself a small bowl and eat a mouthful every so often. Your child won’t be monitoring how much you eat, but it’s great for them to see that you are also having a meal with them and will associate that as positive family time.
What if I don’t want to eat what I made for my child?
Similar to the above point, consider making yourself a small bowl (even if it has 1-2 scoops!). This visual alone can be enough for your child to learn to mimic behaviour as well as enjoy all different types of food. You would be surprised at what good or fussy behaviours a child can develop just by watching what adults choose to eat/not eat!
Overall, enjoy this time teaching your children about food and how to make good choices. You are their role model and without realising, their main influence in food choices/habits and overall relationship around food. Try set these good examples and make every mealtime a fun time for the whole family!
About the Author
Carla Battaglia - Senior Accredited Practicing Dietitian & Accredited Nutritionist
Accredited Practicing Dietitian Carla specialises in gut health. She's passionate about eating food to enrich our lives and health. She regularly helps with gut disorders, women's health and chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease. She's completed post graduate studies in the FODMAP diet for IBS and has many years experience working with gastroenterologists.