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How to Eat Dinner with a Toddler

Charity Mathews Toddler-Friendly Spinach Salad

We’ve been trying to eat more as a family. There are a ton of reasons. First and foremost for me is that it’s one thing we can do as a family unit. Our children are four years apart, so there are many things our 6-year-old daughter can do, from skiing, skating and swimming lessons to movie night at school that leave our 2-year-old behind. But dinner, we can do. For my husband, the hours we gain as parents when we eat together (as opposed to parents eating after kids go to bed, which is what we used to do), are invaluable. Whether we’re doing the taxes, planning a family trip or choosing the a paint color for the office, it’s all precious time for a two-working-parent family. And the health implications are better for all us. My husband and I both eat healthier and eat less when we eat with the kids.

Sounds great, right? Well, here’s the rub, eating with a toddler is trying. And our toddler would always rather be doing almost anything rather than eat. It’s not that he doesn’t like food. And he has a fine palate. He’ll eat more vegetables than any of the rest of us in the family, and he’ll eat all sorts of spicy, gooey, mushy, saucy, tart and tangy options. He comes to the dinner table with plenty of enthusiasm. He just doesn’t stay there for more than five minutes before he’s playing with anything in reach, climbing all over everyone, and distracting us all. But nonetheless, we try to power through it. “This too shall pass” I think to myself as I conjure up visions of the day he’s old enough to sit still and we’re all sharing anecdotes from our day and using our very best manners.

So I fell  in love with this blog post  written by Foodlets.com Founder Charity Mathews. I thought the advice was spot on. My favorites include letting your kids help with meal prep, keep the meal short, and keep your expectations low. There are a few things on her list that I will never do, including cutting vegetables into the shapes of stars and hearts, but then again, getting my kids to eat their veggies isn’t my particular challenge. And in a departure from her “no substitutions” rule, I do offer my children the option of eating a yogurt at any meal if they don’t like what was served. Applesauce is also on the menu every night at the end of the meal because my daughter takes a medicine that is stirred into it, and my son is welcome to some sans medication if he chooses.

As my toddler gets more and more verbal and can participate in dinner conversation, as we get more productive around the house, and maybe (cross your fingers) as I get a tiny bit of downward movement on the scale, the difficult days of toddler dining will have been worth it.

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