Mom Talk: Toddlers & Eating

Toddlers and eating go together just about as well as ice cream and ketchup. Which is ironic because my toddler likes to dip everything in ketchup, even ice cream. So maybe that analogy doesn’t work… The point is, getting a toddler to eat can be tricky which is why we thought it would be the perfect topic for this month’s ‘mom talk’ post. As a reminder, I’ve teamed up with six of my mom pals to share our stance on a different topic each month. The idea behind the series is to showcase that we can all have differing opinions and still be good moms!

Last month, a new reader suggested that I give a little intro to anyone coming from the other blogs so here it is. Longtime Lemon Stripers can skip to the next paragraph. I’m Julia and I live in Connecticut with my husband, Anel, my 20-month-old daughter, Amalia, and our pit-mix, Boots. Amalia is a spitfire and I’m terrified for her teenage years, but right now we have a lot of fun for the most part.

One of my girlfriends recently compared parenthood to high school. Back then, you may have been an overall good student, but excelled in certain subjects more than others. I, for one, was an English and math buff but could never seem to get a good grasp on science. In parenting, it’s the same way. We’ve got our sleep situation down pat, but food has been a bumpier road. Looking at motherhood from that perspective made me feel a lot better about a lot of things. Another thing that isn’t my jam? Crafts. I’ll never be that mom that can whip up a craft station on a rainy day. And I’m good with that.

Toddlers & Eating

When Amalia first started solids at 5 months, the whole family was stoked. I made most of her food myself and was gung ho about getting her to try all the flavors and textures. She did a great job and quickly graduated from purées to solid food. She would eat cod with pesto, spaghetti Bolognese, and a million other ‘non-kid’ foods. I felt so damn proud of myself for raising such a good eater.

Then she turned one…

All of a sudden she had a love affair with blueberries and everything else somehow magically made it’s way to the dog’s mouth. The mystery will never be solved. Not only was she boycotting what used to be her favorite foods, but she would also get angry at me for trying to give them to her. Like straight up throw food in my face and scream. We had some dark times there for a minute.

But then I took the part of the Feeding Littles Toddler Course (it was so time-intensive that I never finished it!), talked to a few friends, and decided to just stress less about mealtimes and we’ve come a long way.

At 20 months, we’re at the (totally normal) point where we have good eating days and bad ones. Sometimes she wants to try new foods that she wouldn’t have even looked at a few months ago. When that happens, Anel and I joke that we shouldn’t breathe or make eye contact with her because we don’t want to jinx it. And other days, she only eats the fruit off her plate and that’s all we get from morning to night.

But what I’ve learned throughout all of this that no matter what, she’s ok. Even if she doesn’t want dinner she sleeps at night, and usually just wants a bigger breakfast. Toddlers are just tiny humans and their appetites are like ours: Sometimes they’re hungry and sometimes they’re not. The difference is that they can’t always express this to their frustrated parents.

5 tricks that have worked for us

Don’t give in. I always give Amalia 3-4 options on her plate (a protein/main, a veggie, a fruit, and sometimes something snacky like crackers or a bar. What goes on the plate at mealtime is the only option. If she only eats the fruit or doesn’t touch a bite, I don’t make another meal. This was really hard at first but so many people (including my own mom) told me that if you give in, you just become a short-order cook and that isn’t good for anyone in the long-run.

Eat with her. In the mornings, we’re usually rushing around to get out the door so I would usually take bites of breakfast while cleaning the kitchen, feeding the dog, and packing Amalia’s daycare bag. At dinner, Anel gets home late and we like to eat together so I would spend her dinnertime cleaning up and getting organized too. But a friend of mine suggested that I sit and eat with her, even if it’s just a light snack so I can still eat with Anel. That has made a really big difference! I’ll put out a little bowl of snap peas or peppers and have some bites while Amalia eats. She loves to try things off my plate so the double win is that it gets her to eat more veggies. It also forces me to slow down and enjoy the time with her which has been really nice.

Make it fun. Amalia recently graduated from her high chair to a booster seat at the counter. We bought her a set of educational placemats so she can learn and have some fun while she waits for her meal. She also loves to cheers with her water so that adds an exciting and repetitive element to every meal.

Stick to a schedule. Amalia eats her meals (and two snacks) at the same time every day, give or take 30 minutes. Her current schedule looks like this:

Breakfast: 8/8:30 am
Snack: 9:30/10 am
Lunch: 12/12:30 pm
Snack: 3/3:30 pm
Dinner: 6/6:30 pm

Staying on a schedule has gotten her used to eating at those times, and normalizes each meal. At daycare, they always give the kids snacks, but at home I’ll skip them if she’s not asking for it because she eats more at meals (duh) when she doesn’t snack.

Don’t worry: At the end of the day, it’s going to be ok. I can’t stress this enough. My pediatrician once told me that babies need their nutrients weekly, not daily like adults. As long as they get in protein, veggies, fruits, and carbs throughout the week somehow, you’re golden. And even if she has a bad week and doesn’t get it all, that’s ok too. I always thought that I’d be the mom that was all organic everything and that I’d raise this perfect little eater.

Clearly, that’s not the case, but at least she’s not having fast food and candy every day. I’ll take that as a win!

Some other posts I’ve written about food

How Amalia to Eat Vegetables
Tips for Dining Out with Toddlers
Our Favorite Baby Breakfasts (Things have changed, but this might be helpful for any of you with younger babies)


Hello Adams Family
Pure Joy Home
Danielle Moss
Kelly in the City
Isn’t That Charming

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your tips and tricks too!

Check out my previous mom talk posts on screen time and sleep training.

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  1. Sarah said:

    My LO is 11 months and starting solids / baby food was SUCH a stressful time for me. It ended up crippling me where I would go days without getting him to try anything and then that stressed me out because I felt like he was falling because he was having such huge gaps between trying food and was going to be a “picky eater.”

    I, also, felt so much pressure from seeing moms on Instagram sitting down and making these great baby foods and their babies responding so well. My LO didn’t love food the first few times we introduced it so that stressed me out…

    All that to say, eventually, I just had to say screw it! We are going to do what works for us; whether that’s pouches, him eating off my plate while he plays, him going a few days before eating food again and honestly that made a WORLD of a difference. He’s still not the greatest eater but he sits down for a meal 3 times of a day. Sometimes he eats it and and sometimes he doesn’t and that’s OK.

    Love this post – thanks for sharing your insight – it was so encouraging!

    4.3.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      Ugh I remember those early days. It was brutal! Glad you said screw it. Taking the pressure off made all the difference for us too.

      4.3.19 · Reply
  2. Laura said:

    i love your approach! what do you do if she only eats the fruit on her plate and doesn’t want the other items but wants more fruit. do you give her more fruit?

    4.3.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      I used to when we first started this approach but now, no. She is at the point where she fully understands that whatever is on her plate is all she’s getting so she will at least try everything now. It took a while to get there though!

      4.3.19 · Reply
  3. Kathleen said:

    Hi! What time does she wake up? My kids never want to eat at breakfast! ‍♀️ I was thinking they just haven’t worked up an appetite yet…

    4.3.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      She wakes up around 7:30 and usually asks to eat within 30 minutes of that. Sometimes it’s right away and sometimes we wait longer.

      4.3.19 · Reply
  4. Olivia said:

    Our daughter turned one last month and we’re entering the same stage Amalia was in! Glad to hear that it gets better. Some days she will literally only eat her fruit, but the dog sure is enjoying this stage!!

    4.3.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      It really does. One day she just started trying things out of nowhere. I promise it changes. At least our pups are happy!

      4.3.19 · Reply
  5. Katie Nguyen said:

    I love this! This is EXACTLY what we do with our 17mo old. Feeding Littles was what we used to create eating habits, we didnt take the course but did research. Great advice!

    4.3.19 · Reply
    • Julia said:

      So glad it worked out for you too!

      4.3.19 · Reply