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Managing Toddlers at the Table

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Mariana Santa-Maria of Boys Town’s Common Sense Parenting

Managing Toddlers at the Table

This post first appeared on Momaha.com. Photo courtesy of Momaha.com.

Many parents struggle with getting their little ones to sit at the table and eat the nutritious food on their plate. The situation can become frustrating for all involved.
Little Megan is pouting because she doesn’t want to eat vegetables and you are tired of making a second meal multiple times a day.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner, which means it’s a great time to work on healthy eating habits and table manners with toddlers.


What to do if your picky toddler isn’t eating healthy foods:

1. Camouflaged snacks.

If you have a little snacker at home that eats everywhere but at the table, make sure that most of her or his snacks are nutritious. This can include such things as carrots covered in granola, celery and peanut butter, and cheese-topped broccoli. These fun, nutritious foods will delight your child.

2. Give them options.

Let your child make choices about the healthy foods they would like with meals or as snacks. Try asking Michael, “Would you like apples or peaches with lunch today?” They will be more likely to eat the food on their plate if they have a say.

3. Try a new food multiple times.

You may need to serve a new food on several different occasions for a child to accept it. Do not force a child to eat, just offer a few bitts, this will help the child to get more familiar with the food and hopefully eventually like it.

4. Don’t force it.

Let kids stop eating when they feel they have had enough. Some parents grew up under the impression that cleaning the plate was the correct way to eat, but we have to teach our children to listen their bodies when they are full.

5. Don’t reward them with food.

Try not to use food as a reward or when you want to show love. Offer hugs, kisses, your time or attention instead of food.


How you can work with your children on table manners:

1. Try to focus mealtime on teaching table manners as opposed to eating.

By getting your child to practice appropriate social skills at the table, you may get him or her to eat more and misbehave less.

2. Establish limits and expectations for mealtime.

Clear distractions like toys away from the table, and turn off the television. Make your child sit in their chair/booster seat and praise him or her when they remain seated for a large portion of the meal.

Other expectations can include:

  • Waiting to eat until everyone has been served
  • Refraining from speaking with a mouth full of food
  • Chewing with your mouth closed
  • Taking small bites

3. If your toddler is throwing or spitting food calmly say, “No throwing food.”

If they correct the behavior, praise your child. If they continue to act out, take about the plate for two minutes and reiterate, “No throwing food.” When their plate is returned and they correct the behavior make sure your praise them. Repetition is the key to success.


For more information click here or order Help! There’s a Toddler in the House from the Boys Town Press® by clicking here.

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