4 Things NOT to Say When Speaking to Your Toddler About Food

When it comes to feeding toddlers, what you SAY can have just as much of an impact on how they eat as what you do or serve. Here’s a list of four things NOT to say when speaking to your toddler about food to set him or her up for success right now and in the future.

Title image for 4 Things NOT to Say to Your Toddler When Speaking About Food.

If you’re a parent, you know it. Feeding toddlers is tricky with a capital “T”. Chances are that at one point or another your toddler has wanted to eat the same three things over and over again, and/or has completely refused to eat anything of any nutritional value, and/or has liked something one second only to loudly exclaim “no like” the next. It’s a tough road to navigate, and it takes a lot of psychological manipulation to successfully do so.

That’s right, today I’m here telling you to psychologically manipulate your child. It sounds strange to flat out say it like that, but it’s the truth. What we say to our toddlers now when it comes to food and eating will lay the foundation for not only their current eating habits, but their relationship with food in the future. It’s just as important, if not more so, than HOW we feed them or WHAT we feed them.

Having studied psychology – and having gone through my own rocky relationship with food – I’ve made it my mission to raise my daughter to have the healthiest, most positive relationship with eating that she can. This means countless hours studying the research, perfecting my own relationship with food, and practicing all that I’ve learned with my little girl. Throughout everything, I’ve been able to glean what really works and what doesn’t when it comes to speaking to your toddler about food, and that’s what I’m here to share with you!

A toddler sitting on a kitchen counter eating blueberries with a quizzical look on her face.

Read on to learn the four things to watch out for when speaking about food with your littles, along with ways to rephrase what you say for optimal results:

Presenting things as “black and white”

One of the main things you want to watch out for when speaking to your toddler about food is presenting it as “healthy” or “unhealthy” or “good for you” or “bad for you.” This presents things as more “black and white” or “yes” or “no” to your child, where the real goal is to teach him or her balance and everything in moderation.

Rather than using these phrases, try focusing on other aspects of food and eating, like how the food tastes, how it makes our bodies feel, or how the food looks.

Some examples of this would be:

“Mmmm don’t these mashed sweet potatoes taste nice and creamy?”

“Doesn’t this broccoli make you feel strong?”

“How fun are all these colors on our plate? Are they making a rainbow?”

Your own negative self-talk

Toddlers are sponges, and they absorb more than we think. Be mindful of how you speak about your own body image or eating habits when you’re around your toddler, because it will most certainly rub off on him or her. Never make comments in front of them about needing to lose weight or not being able to eat something because it’s not on your diet, or saying you need to lose 10 pounds before you can wear a bikini. In a similar vein, be wary of your comments about THEIR size.

Here are some great POSITIVE examples of things you could say instead:

“I love eating lots of fruits and vegetables because they make me feel happy and energized.”

“Let’s put on our swimsuits and go swimming!”

“You’re so strong!”

A toddler and mom baking together at the kitchen counter.

Forcing

I talk about it a lot, but forcing your child to eat something will only lead to resentment and resistance and potentially set them up for disordered eating in the future. The secret is to continuously introduce new and different foods to your toddler, while allowing him or her the autonomy to choose what he or she will or won’t eat. If you offer enough healthy options, your little one will find SOMETHING he or she loves. Perhaps the greatest way to overcome the feeling of needing to force is to lead by example! If your child sees you eating healthy food on the regular, he or she will want to do the same (see my above note about toddlers being sponges).

Dwelling on the negative

Perhaps one of the biggest things we can avoid when communicating with our toddlers about food (and related to #4) is dwelling on the negative. Don’t focus on what they didn’t eat, or how little they ate. Instead, celebrate the wins and encourage positive behavior! If your child tastes something they’ve never tried before, let them know how proud you are of them. If they ate a well-rounded meal, exclaim to them how good they must feel. Kids love positive reinforcement, so dole that stuff out on the regular.

This is just my quick summary of what NOT to say or do when speaking to your toddler about food, but there’s a lot more where that came from! If you want to learn more about feeding your little one, click here for my free cheat sheet on dealing with picky eaters AND to get on the list to be notified when my next Feeding Toddlers: Unlocked! comprehensive course kicks off. I can’t wait to see you there!

A mama holding her toddler in the kitchen and giving her a big kiss.

5 Tips for Introducing New Foods to Your Toddler

Use these five tips to consistently introduce new foods to your toddler – in a way that will actually get them to eat them! These pointers and strategies will help expand your little one’s palate and turn him or her into a healthy, adventurous eater for life.

5 Tips for Introducing New Foods to Your Toddler Title Graphic

Ohhhh feeding toddlers. The never-ending challenge. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever met a mama who doesn’t have at least one thing she’d like to change about her toddler’s eating habits. You’re not alone! It happens to everyone. Heck, I’ve spent the better part of a year consuming all of the research and techniques under the sun for this and I STILL sometimes wish my toddler would just eat whatever I give her with no resistance or complaint.

But there are a lot of things I HAVE learned in all of my research that have made the adventure of feeding my toddler just a little bit easier, and I’m sharing my top five tips with you today! Read on to learn some of the best ways to introduce new foods to your little one.

And if you’re ready to start introducing new foods but feel you need some accountability partners, I’d love for you to sign up for my Three New Foods Challenge. In this challenge, I personally walk a small group through the entire process of introducing three new foods over the course of a few weeks via a private Facebook group. It’s so much fun and is a great way to stay accountable (and meet some other mamas in the process.) Click here to learn more!

Now, let’s get on with these tips

Tip #1: If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying

If you introduce a new food to your toddler and he or she refuses it, don’t give up! Toddlers are discovering their newfound autonomy and will often go through phases of refusing something “just because.” Continue to introduce a new food at least once a week – perhaps prepared a bit differently (see #2) – and you may find that your toddler eventually comes around. To put things into perspective, it can take 30-40 exposures to a certain food before a toddler will eat it!

Tip #2: Try the same food prepared a different way

If your toddler refuses a food once, try preparing it in a slightly different way the next time you serve it. For example, if your little one isn’t into mashed sweet potatoes, try serving them as fries with a “dip” the next time, or prepare the sweet potatoes with different spices. Toddlers are into novelty, so anything that’s “new” and “exciting” to them is more likely to be a hit. Flex your creativity muscles!

A toddler enjoying a healthy lunch.

Tip #3: Serve the new food with a food they already love

If you have a toddler, chances are he or she is obsessed with one food or another. Use this to your advantage and work a new food into the food he or she already loves! Ease into it slowly, baby steps are great. For example, if your child loves grilled cheese and you want to get him or her to eat carrots, try throwing a few grated carrots into the grilled cheese the next time you make it. Don’t go overboard, remember, baby steps! Once they eat the little bit of grated carrots in the grilled cheese, you can slowly increase the amount. When your child is into eating carrots this way, try next serving grated carrots on their own but covered with melty cheese. If this continues to be successful, slowly ease off of the cheese at each serving. Before you know it, your little one will likely be ready to eat grated carrots on their own.

Tip #4: Model the desired behavior

We all know it – kids at this age are little sponges! That’s why, if you’re trying to get your toddler to eat a wider variety of foods, it’s important that you lead by example. If you want your little one to eat broccoli, be sure they see you eating broccoli. If you want him or her to not think twice about eating a tomato, let them see you eating tomatoes. Your toddler will eventually want to mimic you!

Tip #5: Don’t react negatively if they don’t like something

If your toddler tastes something and doesn’t like it, or flat out refuses a new food, be sure not to have a negative reaction. Forcing a certain item or speaking negatively to your little one about food will only foster resentment and rebellion, and may also cause your child to grow up with a negative reaction (in general) to eating. The important thing is to continue introducing things and modeling the desired behavior, without worrying so much about your little one actually clearing his or her plate.

A mama and toddler giggling at each other after a delicious meal!

I know how challenging it can be to get your toddler to try new foods (speaking from experience), so I hope these tips were helpful to you and gave you the extra boost of confidence you need to get in the kitchen and whip up something new and exciting for your little one. If you’re stuck in a rut and need some ideas when it comes to new foods to introduce to your toddler, be sure to check out my favorites for 12- and 18-month olds, plus my post on Creative Baby and Toddler Lunch Ideas!

I’d love to hear how these strategies worked for you in the comments below, and don’t forget to click here to learn more about my Three New Foods Challenge if you’re looking for a little extra support and motivation! Xoxo