The toddler years can be a challenging time for parents. As a way of asserting independence, a toddler may always be saying “NO” to most things. With feeding challenges expected, it may be difficult to feed a child. To add to that, toddlers have small appetites since growth spurts slow down during this stage.

At this time, it is very common for family meals to turn into meal time battles. This may be pointless because a toddler’s energy needs are generally met, when food is offered in a positive environment. Here are some ways to make meal times work:

1. Make family meals a great bonding time for the family. Set your toddler’s place in the family table, and try to make it fun for everybody. Try to talk about fun topics, which your toddler may find interesting. You may also set up your table in a fun way, so that your toddler is enticed to sit down.

2. Place only a small amount of food in your child’s plate. It may be good to start with one tablespoon of food for each kind of dish. If he cleans his plate, it will give him a sense of accomplishment. A child can always ask for a second serving, if he wishes to eat more.

3. Do not force your child to eat a particular food item. This is not at all effective in reinforcing healthy habits. You can always offer the food at a later time. Allow your child to choose the food that he wants because this may reduce frustration. It will also allow your child to think independently.

4. Do not offer food rewards. Food should never be equated with approval or affection from parents. This may only contribute to eating disorders later in life.

5. Promote independence by allowing your child to feed himself. This is actually a great way to strengthen your child’s independence. If a parent frequently insists on feeding a child, he may respond by refusing to eat. Let your child use utensils, but offer help when necessary, so that it will not lead to frustration.

6. Try to serve simple but healthy meals. While spaghetti may be a well-loved dish, toddlers may not like “mixed up” food. Their food preferences may be limited because it gives them a sense of security. And they may not like the idea of different food items all in one dish. Try to offer food items like pieces of chicken, slices of cheese or banana. You may also try to serve brightly colored foods because they may find these appealing.

7. Do not let other activities get in the way of meal times. Turn off the television, and keep toys away from the table. This will let your child focus on eating, rather than playing.

8. Give your child ample time to eat, and expect that it will be messy. They will eventually master the skill, but it is important that meal times remain stress free. This is essential because it will promote a good attitude towards food.

9. Try to set times for snacks and meals. Do not serve snacks when it’s almost time for a meal. If a child has a diminished appetite during a meal, he may not be too willing to eat during meal times.

10. Pay attention to signs that your child may be full. If he is already playing with his food, he may already be satisfied. It is essential that a child learns how to recognize when he is already full, and when he needs to stop eating. This is vital in maintaining a healthy weight later on.

For every stage that a child goes through, there will always be challenges. Although it may be hard, parents need to encourage healthy habits, in order for a child to make healthy choices later in life.