Toddler at the Table: 10 Creative Solutions

Welcome to the November Carnival of Natural Parenting: Kids in the Kitchen

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared how kids get involved in cooking and feeding. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Toddlers seem to move between screamingly hungry and completely disinterested in food. And then there are the unsavory table behaviors. You cannot force another being to eat (or eat politely!), but here are some creative solutions to preserve your sanity and eek a tiny bit more food into their tummies while respecting your tot’s autonomy.  These solutions come from my 15 years working with toddlers, and now my own.

1) Au Revoir, High-chair!  If your tot has any continual aversions to being put in a high-chair, or undesirable behaviors once he is sitting, he may be ready for a booster seat with a strap. That way, he is closer to and more a part of the family table.

2) Lap Lunching. After a few bites in the high chair or booster, your tot may be ready to be un-strapped and showing you this by wiggling, screaming or throwing food! You can often keep her close and eating by being willing to allow some time sharing your plate on your lap. This is a great chance to show good manners and allows for closeness! So everyone can eat peacefully for a few minutes, play musical laps! Part of my “quality time” with my daughter is allowing her to share my lunch on my lap.

3) On Her Terms. Just because your tot doesn’t want to sit anymore, does not mean he isn’t still hungry for food! If you allow him to walk/run/play peacefully around the house while you gobble your own meal, you can then go to him and help him finish his meal while he is walking around. (My rule is five minutes and three bites in the booster and then freedom, or lap baby).

4) Thoughtful Timing. Don’t put your tot in the high chair when you are cooking or setting table if you expect her to also sit there during dinner. That is too much time strapped in. While you prepare meals, your tot can play in a safe kitchen drawer, eat a snack, “organize” your low cupboards or sweep the kitchen floor!

5) Kitchen Helper. Kids are more inclined to eat what they have helped make. Lift up to see the meal cook, allow help in stirring, help put spread on bread, drop bread into toaster slot, pour, shake, wash.  Your tot might be just “screaming” for this sort of attention, togetherness and purpose. They can also play with their own drawer of safe cups and kitchen utensils while you cook.

6) Preventative Snacking. Low blood sugar can happen to anyone. It feels so crappy that we can become unable to feed ourselves or choose our food. Tots actually need to eat every two hours. Protein-rich foods like hummus and healthy sugars like fruits are ideal. While you are preparing dinner, your tot might desperately need a small snack to carry around or sit with on the kitchen floor so as to prevent a low-blood-sugar meltdown at the table. My daughter always gets a pre-breakfast handful of cereal, too.

7.) Picnic. In much the same way that we use distraction and re-direction for behavior challenges with tots, the same can work with eating. Picnic brunches and lunches often get the tummies more full because of the fun and change of pace of a walk or a trip to the park. Raining? (why, always here in Seattle!) Try a picnic in the playroom, picnic on the potty, picnic on the covered front porch in the rocking chair, at a friend’s house, shopping mall…picnic dinner in the living- room?

8.) Positive Peer Pressure. Want to introduce a healthy new food? Go to the house of a little friend who eats it! Put the food on display. See if curiosity and peer pressure will do the job. In general, I have noticed that toddlers eat more food when another little mouth is there to snatch it up 😉

9.) Allow Mess. Make the eating space spill and mess friendly so that eating time isn’t about “No”, power struggles and spill-anxiety. I wouldn’t want to eat with someone lording over me waiting for me to do it wrong. It definitely helps to have a dog 😉 Some tots want badly to eat like an adult. Let him try the big fork and spoon, let him play with chopsticks. Teach him how to sip soup. Allow him to try to feel everything to himself on his own. Tots need to experiment and they need control of their own eating.

10.)Lead by Example. Don’t forget you set tone for food. Evaluate your eating habits. Let your child hear you say “yum” and “mmm” as you are eating. We also say “so good!” If you have food aversions, sensitivities, allergies or dislikes, try to avoid negative language around those foods and eating times. Conversely if you wish your child not to beg for sweets, do not eat them in front of her. Let your child see you eat joyously and explore new foods together while talking about it.

*The idea for this post came from my latest neighborhood workshop: Beginning Gentle Discipline for Toddlers. As a Parent Coach and accepting phone clients from all over the U.S. Contact me at moorea malatt hicks @ gmail dot com



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:


About mooreamalatt

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18 Responses to Toddler at the Table: 10 Creative Solutions

  1. These are excellent tips! Kieran was always more content in a lap than he was in a seat. We also really watched his cues to make sure he wasn’t sick of being cooped up in a booster/high chair.

  2. We must be in the same exact life stage right now because these are all of the things we’ve been doing with Baby over the past few months, and they are SO helpful! 🙂

  3. Jenny says:

    i agree with you on no. 5!! we’ve also noticed that N tends to eat more of the food if she had a hand in preparing it. 😀

  4. I can totally relate to this! We do a lot of these with my 12 month old. Though I think you are very brave for allowing your little one to sit on your lap and eat, I found this far too messy. I can cope with mess on the floor and I don’t mind if K gets food in her hair or on her clothes, but when it’s all over me as well it’s just too much!

  5. I so agree about not keeping them in the high chair too long! I use to consider them ticking time bombs once we got them in there — we wouldn’t put them in until we were REALLY ready to sit down and start eating, otherwise, they’d be done before we had more than a few bites in!

    I can also vouch for the peer thing. My oldest would eat so many things at daycare that she would never touch at home! Having twins really highlighted this for me as well — E & D were/are pretty good eaters, and while I can’t say how much is just their personalities or the peer issue, but there is definitely some “power of suggestion” going on. Oh! You like that? Hmmm, maybe I will give it a try….

  6. Sheila says:

    Totally agree, especially on #10. My kid eats what I eat … whether I want him to or not. And he refuses to eat what I haven’t eaten first. I guess it helps stop him from eating poisonous things!

    And as for high chairs — definitely. My mom was very strict about high chairs with my younger siblings, so I at first felt I was doing something wrong when I handed my kid a sandwich and let him run around the house with it. But he eats much more this way, and doesn’t get cranky from too long without eating. I mean, how long have toddlers existed? And how long have high chairs existed? It’s no wonder toddlers aren’t into them. They’ve spent most of their history wandering around begging from the adults or sitting on their laps.

  7. Pingback: Crunchy-Chewy Mama » Blog Archive » Kids in the kitchen (better late than never!)

  8. Christine says:

    Lovely tips! I loved where you said : Just because your tot doesn’t want to sit anymore, does not mean he isn’t still hungry for food! So true!

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  10. “Toddler at the Table: 10 Creative Solutions MamaLady” was indeed seriously
    entertaining and helpful! Within todays universe that’s tricky to achieve.
    Thank you, Darwin

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  16. sybil todd says:

    Hello, it’s nice blog and thanks for sharing this information. Ina daycare feeding tables are important for toddlers.A toddler feeding table is manufactured carefully in order to satisfy the requirements of the American childcare industry. Nurseries and preschools require different types of feeding tables for toddlers and preschoolers.

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