Making mealtime with toddlers pleasant for all

Posted Aug. 29, 2011, at 4:24 p.m.

Determined that her toddler finish a nutritious meal, a mom surrenders her iPhone and lets him play “Angry Birds” while she scoops avocado into his mouth. Many parents, particularly those with picky eaters, would empathize with that tactic.

Good nutrition and good manners often seem to be opposing forces. Elizabeth Verdick, author of the “Mealtime” board book in the Toddler Tools series (Free Spirit Publishing, $7.95), offers tips on how to engage tots in happy, healthy eating.

Question: What do you think of distracting a kid so he doesn’t notice the nutritious food he’s consuming?

Answer: Lots of cookbooks help moms and dads sneak some veggies into favorite meals, usually by steaming then blending the vegetables into a puree that can be added into pasta dishes or other foods. Also, young children can develop a taste for a variety of foods, as long as you keep trying. Be sure to let your child see you eating — and enjoying — these foods.

Q: What about the importance of sitting down together? I always found that virtually impossible because my toddler ate around 5 p.m. and my husband gets home more than an hour later.

A: If eating together is important to you, set your family up for success. So, your husband gets home at 6 — then an hour before that, you can give your toddler a satisfying snack and let him or her help you in the kitchen. If your toddler is crabby during that hour, make it a quiet time instead.

Offer the snack and then let your child be nearby with books (or favorite toys you bring out only during this hour) while you’re cooking. Then you can have time at the table together when dinner is ready.

Q: What is a reasonable length of time to expect a child to sit?

A: It depends on the age of the child. If your toddler can sit for about 10 or 15 minutes and then needs to get down from the highchair and play, that’s OK. Try to make the most of those 10 minutes by talking with your child and getting him or her to eat what you’ve prepared. If it’s important to you that your child sit for a longer amount of time, make table time lots of fun. Ask each other funny questions or have a funny-face contest.

Q: What’s your position on “cleaning your plate”?

A: I hated the “clean your plate” rule when I was a kid. But if you’re a firm believer in “clean your plate,” make sure the portions you serve aren’t too large so that your child is getting full but still must finish. I’m more of a believer in the “try one bite” rule — with the understanding that if they truly don’t like it, they don’t have to eat the whole thing.

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