Why You Can't Force Your Toddler To Eat

The Whats, Wheres, and Whens of feeding your toddler

Why You Can't Force Your Toddler To Eat

Over the past couple of weeks I have had to remind myself of how important mealtime structure is, especially for my two-and-a-half year old. See, we had a baby two months ago and let's just say, we've let things slide a little bit due to being in the trenches of the newborn stage. We've noticed some bad habits forming so are planning to re-establish some structure around feeding and eating in our house…

Feeding your toddler: What is your role?

What I’ve learned through personal experience and in the research that I’ve done on child nutrition, is that toddlers and kids NEED structure, but they also need to feel as though they have some control. When it comes to meal and snack times, it’s important that we, as parents, take responsibility for the Whats, Whens and Wheres of feeding. However, it’s equally important that we let our toddlers and young children be responsible for the Whethers and How muchs of eating. This is the corner stone of Ellyn Satter’s (Author of The Division of Responsibility of Feeding, Registered Dietitian and Mental Health Specialist) philosophy when it comes to feeding toddlers. Furthermore, we as parents decide what toddlers eats (or give them structured choice), where they eat, and when they eat. This helps them develop a healthy relationship with food, while also respecting boundaries.

The "Whats":

You as the parent get to decide what your toddler eats. Ideally, you should provide a variety of foods for nutritional balance (at least three at meals and two at snacks) with different colours, flavours and textures. At family meals, your toddlers should be served the same foods that the rest of the family is eating (unless of course, they have a severe food allergy or intolerance). In other words, even if your toddlers are picky eaters, they should not receive a special meal and you should not take on the role of "short-order cook" (as tempting as it is). When they are old enough (I can now do this with my toddler), try to include your child in meal preparation (even in little tiny ways). This will help them to be more open to trying new foods and eating their meal. Try giving your older toddler structured choice at meal or snack times. For example, give them *only* two choices of snacks ("would you like yogurt and berries OR pita chips and hummus?"). This gives them a little bit of control while still maintaining structure.

The "Whens":

Eating should not be a free-for-all. There should be structured meal and snack times on most days so that your toddler knows when to expect another chance to eat. Because toddlers have small tummies, ideally they should be offered food every three hours or so. This likely translates into three meals with snacks in between and depending on bed time, before bed. This timing structure will help your toddler eat until he or she is comfortably full and develop a healthy appetite for meals.

The "Wheres": 

When you are at home, meals and snacks should be eaten at a designated eating area (presumably a kitchen or dining room table), free from distractions. If some meals are served at the table and some of served in front of the TV on the couch, your toddler will soon want to eat all meals in front of the TV because it’s more fun. When your toddler or child eats in front of a screen, they aren’t focusing on their food or their inner hunger/fullness cues; they are instead focusing on what they’re watching. Establish one or two places (preferably at a table) where everyone in the family eats. This will encourage more family meals (which have MANY benefits) and also provide more structure for your toddler.

Eating: What is your toddler's role?

As mentioned above, toddlers need structure, but they also need to feel as though they have some control. It's hard as the parent to hand over the control after you've fulfilled your role in the feeding relationship, but it's absolutely crucial that you do. Forcing your child to eat a particular food or to "clean their plate" will not do them any favours in the long run. 

The "Whethers" and "How muchs": 

It is completely up to your toddlers or children as to whether or not they eat what you’ve served (and how much). I know—this is really hard for us as parents, especially after we’ve spent time making a healthy, tasty meal or snack. We need to take a step back and let our kids decide if they are going to eat their food and how much they are going to eat. No pressure, no forcing, and no bribing. We should also allow them to eat at their own pace, without pressure to "eat faster" or "keep up" with the rest of the family, unless of course they taking hours on end to finish a meal. Again, there has to be boundaries. The good thing is, toddlers and young kids will not let themselves starve—they are VERY intuitive when it comes to eating. If they don’t eat much at one meal or snack, they’ll make up for it in future meals or snacks or even days afterwards. Sometimes my son does not touch his food and sometimes he out-eats my husband. It all evens out by the end of the week somehow. We have to respect his hunger and fullness cues, because he certainly is. We could actually learn a thing or two from our toddlers! 

If you found this post helpful, you may be interested in reading about:

Also, feel free to check out my facebook page where I post daily nutrition tips and tricks for parents. 




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Six Foods Breastfeeding Mothers Should Eat

Eat these foods to help maintain your own health and provide the best nutrition to your breastfed baby

Six Foods Breastfeeding Mothers Should Eat

As a nursing mother, I am thinking about what I put into my mouth more than usual, considering that my daughter is consuming what I'm consuming. As I watch her grow before my eyes, I can't help but be amazed that I am solely responsible for her growth and development up to this point. As empowering and amazing as that feels, I can't help but feel an enormous amount of pressure. What I eat and drink directly effects both her short term and long term health. Luckily, if I make sure that I eat a balanced diet most of the time, enjoying treats here and there is perfectly fine. In fact, your breastmilk will provide the ideal source of nutrition to your baby even with a less-than-ideal diet, although your health as the nursing mom will suffer if your nutrition is not up to par. 

Along with continuing to take my prenatal multivitamin and eating a well balanced diet overall, here is a list of foods that I make sure are in my diet when I'm nursing, as they all pack a nutrition punch.


Salmon is a low mercury fatty fish that provides an excellent source Omega-3 Fatty acids, DHA and EPA. These two forms of Omega-3 are essential, meaning we do not produce them on our own, so we need to get them through the foods that we eat. Eating salmon is one of the best ways to reap the benefits of Omega-3. DHA and EPA are directly linked to brain, eye and nerve development in infants and toddlers and they also protect against cardiovascular disease. Salmon can also help to stabilize your blood sugar and control your appetite, which aids in healthy weight loss after pregnancy. 


One cup of strawberries contains only 50 calories but about 150% of your daily Vitamin C needs! They also provide a great source of fibre, which is especially important for new moms. Strawberries also provide a healthy dose of potassium, manganese, and folate. 

Greek Yogurt:

Greek yogurt has become very popular over the past few years, mainly due to its high protein content and delicious thick texture. Greek yogurt is an easy, convenient, and healthy snack for busy new moms and because of its high protein content, will help you feel fuller longer and will also help with post-partum weight loss. Yogurt also contains healthy bacteria, probiotics, which will keep your and your baby's digestive track in tip top shape. 


Milk is an excellent source of Calcium and Vitamin D, which are both essential for building strong bones and teeth in your baby not to mention maintain your own bone health. Milk is also a great way to stay hydrated while nursing, provides a great source of protein and is super convenient. A glass of milk or chocolate milk is my favourite go-to snack while I'm nursing because it hydrates as well as nourishes me and my baby (and I can drink it with one hand!).

Almonds and almond butter:

Almonds are not only a great source of protein, healthy poly-unsaturated fats and fibre, they are also a rich source of Vitamin E which, B Vitamins and phytosterols. Whole almonds, on their own or in a homemade trail mix, make for a convenient and healthy snack while nursing. Almond butter is a nice alternative to peanut butter and can be used as a spread on toast or a sandwich or can be added to oatmeal or a smoothie. If you notice any sort of reaction in your baby after consuming nuts of any kind, make sure to see your baby's doctor to rule out a possible nut allergy. 

Dark leafy greens:

Leafy greens such as spinach, swiss chard, and kale are jam-packed full of fibre, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and much more. One of the minerals that is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women is iron and leafy greens boast a lot of it. It's important to note though that plant sources of Iron are not as well absorbed as animal sources (such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs), but if you pair these iron-rich leafy greens with either iron-rich animal foods or foods high in Vitamin C such as citrus fruits, strawberries or bell peppers, this helps with the absorption of the iron. Enjoy leafy greens in a salad, in soups or sandwiches or throw them into a smoothie (one of my go-to snacks while breastfeeding). 




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Confused About Eating During Pregnancy? Here's Advice From a Dietitian

kick back, grab a decaf latte, and read on...

Confused About Eating During Pregnancy? Here's Advice From a Dietitian

Should you drink coffee or should you avoid it all together?

Should you steer clear of any soft cheeses or just the unpasteurized ones?

And what's the deal with deli meats?!

When you become pregnant, you have advice flying at you from all directions—from your Mom, your friends, websites, books, magazines, your boss and random people who feel the need to give you advice, even when you don't ask for it. This information overload can be daunting and a wee bit overwhelming—especially for a first-time expectant Mom. 

As a Mom, I know that being pregnant is exciting but a bit nerve-racking. When I was pregnant the first time, I was confused about nutrition during pregnancy—and this is what I do! 

As a Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, I want to give you the best, up-to-date nutrition advice possible for your pregnancy, in a easy-to-understand way. So kick back, grab a decaf latte, and read on...

Here are my top pregnancy nutrition Dos and Don'ts:


Take a regulated pre-natal multivitamin with 0.6-1.0 mg (400-1000 mcg) of Folic Acid, 16-27 mg Iron, and less than 5000 IU's of Vitamin A everyday. If you aren't pregnant yet but are thinking about conceiving, start taking one now. This is important for your baby's normal development in utero and to keep you healthy throughout pregnancy. To ensure that your supplement is government regulated, look for an NPN or NHP number (natural products number). Consider also taking a Vitamin D supplement of 400-1000IU's per day as well as an Omega 3 fish oil supplement if you do not eat low mercury oily fish at least twice a week. 


Take random isolated vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin B's, Iron, and Vitamin C unless your family Doctor has suggested it. More vitamins and minerals does not mean a healthier baby.Toxic levels of vitamins and minerals can cause harm to you and your baby. 


Continue to enjoy low mercury fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, trout, mackerel and light flaked canned tuna twice a week to meet your Omega-3 requirements. Fish is a great source of protein and many other nutrients that are important throughout pregnancy. 


Eat high mercury fish such as Swordfish, Marlin, or Orange roughy. Mercury acts as a neurotoxin, potentially effecting the brain and nervous system of an unborn baby. Best to avoid these fish during pregnancy.  


For a single pregnancy (not twins of triplets), eat an additional 300-340 calories per day during your 2nd trimester and an extra 400-450 calories during your 3rd trimester to support your baby's growth and development if you were at a healthy weight prior to pregnancy. I encourage my clients to focus on protein-rich foods such as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, milk, and yogurt. An example of a 350 calorie snack is 3/4 cup yogurt, a handful of berries and a few nuts. Try to eat small meals and snacks every 2-3 hours to ensure optimal nutrition, and to avoid nausea and intense hunger. 


Eat like you're actually eating for two. During your first trimester, you actually don't require any additional calories. After all—your baby is roughly the size of a pea. Many women mistake pregnancy for a free-for-all food fest. This can lead to excess weight gain which can be harmful to both you and your baby for many reasons. If you're unsure of what and how much to eat, speak to your doctor who can refer you to a Dietitian for guidance. Do enjoy the occasional treat like you usually do (let's be real!), but don't go overboard on junk food. It's not going to benefit you or your baby. 


Stay away from alcohol, for the most part. At this point, no safe level of alcohol has been established for pregnancy, so it's probably better to err on the side of caution and avoid it all together. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which can cause serious developmental delays in baby, has been largely linked to heavy drinking during pregnancy. That being said, there have been several studies that suggest that light, occasional drinking may not pose a risk to baby. And I would be lying if I said that I didn't have the occasional sip or even tiny glass of wine during my last pregnancy.  For the most part though, I played it safe and stuck to virgin mojitos and soda, cranberry and lime, which I am recommending that you do. 


Eat raw or undercooked meats, poultry, fish, shellfish or eggs. Also avoid deli meats (and meat pates) and smoked seafood unless you cook them well. When you are pregnant, your immunity to certain food-borne pathogens decreases- so you and your unborn babe are more at risk for food poisoning. Eating raw, rare, or undercooked meats or poultry can put you at risk for exposure to Toxoplasmosis as well as Salmonella. Deli meats and smoked seafoods have been known to carry Listeria, which can cause a miscarriage. If you choose to eat deli meats, make sure that you reheat them until steaming first. Smoked seafood that is canned or shelf-stable is usually safe, but refrigerated smoked seafood should be avoided unless reheated until steaming (like in a casserole). Raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided because of the risk of Salmonella poisoning. Watch out for certain Caesar salad dressings, raw cookie dough, custards and Hollandaise sauces made with raw eggs. 


Enjoy your java, in moderation. Some experts say that up to 300 mg of caffeine is totally safe during pregnancy and then other experts say to avoid it all together as it increases the risk of having a miscarriage. I recommend that women limit their caffeine intake to about 200 mg per day, which is the equivalent of about one and a half 8 oz cups of coffee/day. Remember though, certain teas, soft drinks and foods also contain caffeine


Consume unpasteurized dairy products such as unpasteurized milk or imported soft cheeses made from unpasteurized milk. Unpasteurized milk may contain Listeria which can put you at an increased risk of miscarriage. In Canada, milk sold legally needs to be pasteurized, but it's important to read labels carefully, especially on imported soft cheeses, to make sure that the milk used has been pasteurized. 


Feel free to take herbal supplements and teas that are considered safe during pregnancy, in moderation. These include Bilberry, Cranberry, Evening Primrose Oil, Gingko Biloba, Green Tea Extract, raspberry leaf and Valerian root. Herbal teas such as linden flower, citrus peel, ginger, lemon balm, orange peel, and rose hip consumed in moderation (2-3 cups per day) are deemed safe. Avoid teas that contain aloe, coltsfoot, juniper berries, pennyroyal, buckthorn bark, comfrey, labrador tea, sassafras, duck roots, lobelia and senna leaves. These are considered unsafe during pregnancy. 




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