Six Sneaky Tricks to Get your Toddler to Eat Dinner

Six Tricks to Get your Toddler to Eat DinnerI cannot pinpoint the exact day that it happened. I can only tell you that sometime after my toddler turned two, what I made for dinner was hardly ever right.  I’d make a meal that he loved the week before, but tonight, it’s plain wrong.  He looks down at his plate, gives me a look that says “What the heck is this?” and then he tells me “all done” without even taking a bite!

Nothing makes dinner more stressful than spending the entire meal trying to get your toddler to eat their food.  So my husband and I have started trying to make dinner as relaxing as possible.  We make dinner time about connection instead of focusing on eating.

If you have kids that struggle at dinner, here are some tricks I use:

We don’t talk about eating the food

My instinct wants to praise him every time he takes a bite.  However, I am sure my own people-pleasing tendencies started when I was a child.  I lived for the praise which led me to not trust my body and to overeat.  My brother was a picky eater, and my parents struggled to get him to eat.  Me? I ate all my food every time.  It made me feel like I was a “good girl.”

I don’t want my child to believe that his value changes based on how much he eats or doesn’t eat. I want him to listen to his own cues and trust his body.  That is why I avoid telling him “one more bite” or “you have to at least try a bite.”

Exposure

Most new foods are automatically “yucky” to kids.  When I put a new food on my son’s plate, I assume the first time he won’t even touch it.  I will just tell him what the food is and leave it at that.  The second time I serve that item, he will probably just poke at it.  Maybe he will even try a lick.  He might save that for the third time, but the moral of the story is, if he sees that food enough times, eventually he will get curious enough to try a bite.

I also try to serve at least one familiar food.  Believe it or not, one of my kid’s favorite foods is broccoli.  If I’m serving a new meal for dinner, I try to include broccoli on his plate.  If he eats all his broccoli and asks for more, I’ll tell him “I see you want more broccoli, but that’s all the broccoli we have for tonight.” He can then make a choice to try something else on his plate or just be done.  At the very least, he ate something and I’ve exposed him to new foods.

Fun Utensils

Toy Story Utensils for DinnerI bought my toddler a Toy Story fork and spoon, and he couldn’t wait to use them! He also has his own special dishes and placemat.  On days that he’s not super excited about his utensils, I bring out the cute little tongs I got for him.  The tongs make dinner extra fun and are great for fine motor skills!

Musical Chairs

No, we do not actually play musical chairs at dinner. I’m not THAT fun.  Some days all he needs is a change of scenery, and moving to a different chair than the one he normally uses makes dinner more exciting.

Silly songs

My husband can tell you I make up the best songs.  Okay, they’re actually not that great but my kid loves them.  That’s all that matters, right?  Singing these songs eases any tension and relieves the pressure around eating.

Sometimes mom’s plate just looks better

Or her fork. Or her spoon. Or her bowl.  I have to make our dinner look the same as much as I possibly can.  If I’m eating from a bowl, he has to have a bowl.  There are also times that he doesn’t want his Toy Story fork.  He wants mama’s fork.  A simple switch (and supervision), and he goes to town on dinner.

Honestly, there are some days where none of this works, and he just chooses not to eat dinner.

That’s when I have to use my mom instincts.  Did he have a later afternoon snack?  Was it a bigger snack than usual?  Does he have a belly ache? I have to remember that it’s his body.  I can guide him in the right direction, but I can’t physically force him to eat.  As soon as I start making mealtimes a battle, the more he’s not going to want to eat.

I remind myself that this is not an emergency, and we will try again tomorrow.

Do you have any tips to get your toddler to eat dinner? Share them in the comments or on our Facebook page!

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Alex is a former cook and culinary arts graduate turned stay at home mom to her sweet heart warrior toddler, Wyatt. Alex moved to Cedar Rapids almost 10 years ago after graduating from UNI where she met her husband. While awaiting her husband to return home from his first deployment, she stays busy by having dance parties with Wyatt, taking her two dogs on long walks, experimenting with new recipes in the kitchen, reading, and watching reality tv.