Part 2 of the Feeding Toddlers Series
Step 1 to successful meals at home for the next 5 years? A functional dining space. My dining room is not fancy, and you will not find it trending on Instagram. Dropped/spilled food is the confetti of my world, and I needed a set up that wasn’t difficult to maintain. If you have a small home (like me), then your kitchen/dining/living space is likely to be close proximity to one another. So I have a ‘rustic’ dining table – meaning scratches only add to its aesthetic! – and I have chair covers that can be washed weekly if need be. I don’t have a rug. I love being able to clean my Ikea booster seat and the floor beneath it with baby wipes. I love that the boys can get toys from the standing hutch and play right at the table or head into the finished garage and play there. Many MANY nights the boys will eat, then go and play within earshot while I finish my meal in peace. Be realistic Momma’s: “finish my meal in peace” is 5-7minutes tops. However, if you’ve ever tried to eat your meal while at the same time serving your children, keeping things clean, and engaging with them on a deeper level than just “stop kicking your brother!”, then you’ll agree 5 minutes to eat is pure heaven.
Take a look at your dining room or kitchen table. Is it serving you? Is there anything you can remove to make the space less distracting? Auditing the room that could potentially serve up to three meals a day is not a waste of time. I’ve seen families keep spoons and forks at the table, use smaller high chairs or ones that attach to chairs if space is tight, and add a hook to the back of a booster seat to keep bibs near by.
Step 2 is presentation! You’ve been watching the Food Network since college, so don’t roll your eyes when I say its gotta look good. Cut everything up before you sit down. Start with small portions, a few bites of each item. Save more of the ‘good stuff’ (bread, pasta, corn, etc) for when they’ve either finished the protein & vegetable you’ve offered or they have at least tried it.
Experiment with presentation, because you and your child can only solve this dinner drama together. Do they care if the veg is mixed with rice, or do they HAVE to have it separate? I have one child who will eat more vegetables if I mix it all together, and one who prefers going from one area of the plate to next. Doesn’t matter to me how they want to eat, what matters is that they do eat.
Theres a lot of advice out there that says you shouldn’t make separate meals for each family member, you’re not a short order cook, they’ll eat what you give them… You’ve probably felt this way. I feel this way. But its not reality.
My life is much happier when I work with my reality versus forcing an ideal that I haven’t practically implemented.
What do I mean? Well, if your child hasn’t mastered steak yet, then you can’t expect them to eat that texture in any form. Everything from a pork chop to a portabella is going to have the same mouth feel as a London broil. Be ready on the nights when you’ve prepared a new protein, and offer a hard boiled egg/low sodium chicken breast from the deli/peanut butter sandwich once your toddler has tried the new food but isn’t able to consume a satisfying amount. Or if my husband has made a curry dish, which I know the 2 year old isn’t going to eat, then we’ll set aside some chicken and veg before adding the curry sauce. Am I technically making him a different meal? Sure. But it includes the same basic ingredients as my meal, which means I’m prepared for him to try my dish, probably not like it, and have a back up option ready to go. I can’t see how any of this is a bad idea.
I’ve collected great, applicable, easy to use recipes on my Pinterest Board “Toddler Friendly Meals”. Click here to get ideas for dinner tonight! Note: you’ll see a lot of ‘finger food’ type links, but don’t underestimate them. Kids 2-4 can benefit from a chicken & veg or macaroni & veg ‘muffin’ type options when you’re looking to incorporate more vegetables. Veggie ‘patties’ or ‘bites’ are also prime recipes for making together, so your toddler can see what the ingredients are. How exciting for them that a vegetable they haven’t liked in the past is pleasantly delicious once in a different form?
Step 3 is getting rid of those pesky expectations. If my husband is home (he’s a police officer, so 50% of the time I alone with the boys) then he and I will eat dinner before calling the kids to the table, but then remain at the table with them for the rest of the meal. If I’m alone? I’ll have a few bites, then assist my children in what to eat or how to behave, help them clean up their spot, then go back to my meal. It flows naturally, without me having to inhale my plate at the counter before someone needs another cup of milk, and without me having to starve until after bedtime either.
As long as they’re in the dining ‘space’, meaning near or around the table, and not screaming (inside voices! amiright?) then you’ve extended them the grace their attention spans can handle while still instilling in them the idea that meals are to be spent together.
I truly had NO idea how much better I parented at dinner time when I wasn’t trying to feed myself in the same moment. It took me a long time to get over the notion that ‘family meals’ with small children somehow meant eating simultaneously. While toddlers should be expected to sit at the table and ask permission before leaving, it is unrealistic to expect this behavior in a static sense. They’ll sit, they’ll fall out of their chair, they’ll squirm in their seat, they’ll get up, they’ll come back. Two year olds need opportunities and reinforcement to consistently use their napkin, make conversation, and drink carefully from a cup. You cannot be present and available for all these lessons if you’re also trying to eat your meal, particularly if you’d like to eat it mindfully!
Family meal time simply means being together. While food is the main activity, the GOAL is to help those toddlers learn table manners and then maybe get a bite of broccoli in. You can do this!
If you like having simple routines and guidelines like these at your fingertips, then pre-order the Parent Like a Pro Ebook, available now for a discounted price until it’s release December 2018!