The Feeding Relationship
By choosing a feeding relationship with feeding “jobs” and following hunger and fullness cues, you can help your toddler develop healthy eating habits. Children who experience healthy eating from an early age have the best chances to become lifelong healthy eaters.
Thinking of yourself and your toddler as having feeding “jobs” can start you off on the right path toward healthy eating. Following the feeding “jobs” can also help to avoid fighting about food.
Your “job” is to:
- Offer a choice of healthy foods.
- Offer enough food.
- Offer meals and snacks at the same times each day.
- Watch and respond to your toddler’s hunger and fullness cues during meals and snacks.
Your toddler’s “job” is to:
- Choose whether to eat.
- Choose what to eat from what is offered.
- Choose how much to eat.
Hunger and Fullness Cues
Your toddler knows when he or she is hungry or full. Your toddler will usually give you signs, or “hunger and fullness cues,” to show that she or he does or doesn’t want to eat. By reading and responding to these cues, you can help your toddler be healthy, eat well, and enjoy food. You can tell if your toddler is hungry when she or he:
- Opens her or his mouth when offered food.
- Leans forward excitedly, kicks feet, or waves hands when offered food.
You can tell when your toddler has had enough food when she or he:
- Closes her or his mouth when food is offered.
- Turns her or his head away when food is offered.
- Pushes food away.
Your toddler’s appetite will vary from day to day. Sometimes your toddler will eat a lot and at other times will have no interest in eating. By never forcing your toddler to eat, you will help your toddler follow his or her own body’s cues for hunger and fullness.
Preventing Picky Eating
Many toddlers and their caregivers struggle with periods of picky eating. Providing many opportunities for your toddler to smell, touch, and taste new foods gives your toddler time to accept the foods. Let your toddler eat at her or his own pace. Offer a new food along with something that your toddler already likes.
Providing foods with a variety of textures from an early age can help your toddler accept new foods. Children who eat only puréed, store‑bought baby food often won’t eat foods with lumpier textures.
Role modelling healthy eating can be powerful. It sends the message that healthy eating is important. You can be a role model for healthy eating by following Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide.
Involve your toddler as much as you can in planning and preparing meals and snacks to increase his or her interest in trying new foods. Many have found that children will happily eat foods that they have chosen in the store, grown, or “helped cook.”
Did you know that toddlers often need to see a new food 12 to 30 times before it is accepted? Give your toddler many chances to look at, touch, smell, and taste new foods. This will help her or him accept new foods more easily.
When your toddler begins to eat solid foods, it is best if he or she sits down to eat. Having a family member sit down and eat with your toddler is a great way to promote healthy eating and social development. Studies show that children who eat meals with family members eat healthier and do better in school.
Toddlers often do well with regular routines. By sitting down for meals and snacks at the same times each day, your toddler can focus on learning to eat a variety of foods and learning the skills to feed him‑ or herself. Avoid grazing (eating and drinking all the time, including from a bottle or sip cup). Grazing between meals and snacks is not a healthy eating habit and is especially harmful to teeth.
visit the BetterTogether BC website.
For information more on promoting a healthy relationship with food in children ages 2 and older, see the printable pamphlet: A Healthy Relationship with Food.