The power struggle with your toddler at mealtimes is probably a regular occurrence in many households. But, the good news is that it does not have to be. Toddlers are at an age where they learn to communicate and discover what they can control in parts of their lives. Eating is one of the first and most important areas in their life that they learn to control. As a parent, you can help them explore this limited freedom in their life while still providing for their needs. In this article, you will learn a few tips on avoiding the power struggle with your toddler at mealtimes. 

Let children feed themselves

Starting your infant with finger foods, also known as Baby Led Weaning, can be an excellent opportunity for them to begin to learn how to feed themselves. Serving appropriately sized portions and foods cut in a way that they can easily grab and feed themselves is key. This process can get messy, so prepare accordingly and embrace the mess; it is a part of the learning process. 

It is also important to pay attention to your child’s hunger and fullness cues. Start with small portions on the tray or plate and offer more if they still seem hungry and resist the urge to feed just one more bite at the end of a meal. As your child learns to feed themselves, sit back and watch your child assert their independence when it comes to mealtimes. Infants and toddlers crave control and autonomy; conflicts arise when they no longer have this control. Starting self-feeding as early as possible can be beneficial in avoiding the power struggle at mealtimes. 

Offer new foods with comfort foods

Sometimes, a whole plate of unfamiliar food can be overwhelming, causing a hungry toddler to have a meltdown at the dinner table. Instead, offer one or more new foods with at least one familiar food you know they will eat. This food can give them a sense of comfort that they will have something to eat if they choose not to eat the other items on their plate. When serving unfamiliar foods, start with a small portion first; this act can also help them not be overwhelmed by the new food.

You choose what to offer, and they choose what and how much to eat

As the parent, you get to control what food you offer your child to eat, and your child can then control what and how much they eat from their plate. This balance is key in avoiding a power struggle at mealtimes. Coaxing your child to finish certain foods on their plates may lead to meltdowns and food refusal in the future. Allowing them to choose what they would like to eat and how much will give your child control over their own body and lets them tune into their body’s hunger and fullness cues. This skill is important to learn early in life and can lead to a healthier relationship with food as they become adults. 

Listen to your child 

Be sure to pay attention to what your child’s actions are saying at the table. If they are disengaging or playing with their food and not eating it, this response may be a sign that they are full. It is important not to force your child to finish any food as doing so may prevent them from knowing when they are full. Listening to your toddler does not mean that they should eat on demand all day long, but providing structured meal and snack times will help your child learn when to expect food and provide comfort in knowing when their next meal is coming. This consistency can be beneficial when it comes to avoiding conflict with your toddler at mealtimes.

Avoid rewarding your child with junk foods

It is tempting to reward your child with chips or sweets if they eat their broccoli at dinnertime. But, when this exchange happens, two things occur; your child learns that they should get a reward of sweets if they eat something they do not like, and these calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods shape their taste preferences as they grow. Not to say that you should avoid all junk foods, but rather give them to your child in moderation and not give them as a “special treat.” Offer dessert foods in small portions with the meal. 

Offering sweets with their meal takes away the specialness and treats it like any other food; this act can help your child learn not to obsess over sweets and overindulge when they get them. Offering sweets with a meal can help avoid the power struggle of your child wanting dessert and avoiding the whole meal entirely until they get it. 

toddler at mealtimes

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