There’s nothing quite as humbling as cooking a delicious, well-balanced meal for your toddler and watching it end up on the floor faster than you can pat yourself on the back for making it. What is the favorite food one day is completely offending the next and looks more like a great missile to chunk across the room instead of something to actually eat.
We’ve entered that beautiful phase of teaching a toddler to feed themselves. Gone are the days of bottles and lovingly spooning purees into her tiny little mouth. No, now she wants to do it and if I even try to hold the spoon I’m met with flailing arms trying to grab it from me. Little Miss is becoming an independent eater, which is both incredibly fun and super frustrating all at once.
The title of this post is a little misleading and I’m sorry. I’m not sure there really is an art to feeding toddlers, but today we’re going to talk about 5 lessons I’ve learned so far in our self-feeding journey. I’m also going to show you a few tricks and products that have made toddler feeding so much easier for our family.
This post contains affiliate links. Simply put, if you use one of my links to purchase an item, I receive a small commission, at no extra charge to you. I only promote products that I have used and believe in. Thank you for supporting this site!
5 Lessons I’ve Learned…The Hard Way
1. Early on in this feeding game I learned that the meals I feed my daughter don’t have to be Pinterest-worthy. I had visions of creating some of the beautiful foods I’ve seen online, but when the rubber meets the road, I’m all about quick and simple. At this point, I’ve decided that I’m not OK with spending an hour preparing and cooking a meal for Little Miss that will just end up on the floor and that the dogs will eat. I have better things to do with my time (like pick up the sippy cup she just threw on the floor for the 47th time).
I’m sure at some time in her life Little Miss will quit the food flinging and then I will spend some time to make her a beautiful, creative meal that she and I will both enjoy. Maybe I’ll even put it on Pinterest. Ha! Riiiiight.
2. When feeding a toddler, you have to be able to think on your feet. We’re in that stage where Little Miss knows what she wants and she thinks she’s telling me what she wants, but I really have absolutely no idea what she wants. She has some go-to foods that I can usually pull out in a pinch, but sometimes even those aren’t feasible options and I have to really get creative. I also have to figure out what I can make with the foods we have on hand. That can get extra tricky as grocery day approaches!
Now, I want to express that by no means does our daughter rule the roost. Throwing fits doesn’t get her whatever she wants and she tries new foods regularly. But I do try to give her at least one food that I know she likes at each meal so she will eat something. We had enough trouble getting her to eat when she was a newborn and I’d like her to continue to put weight on that tiny little body of hers.
3. On that note, another lesson I’ve had to learn is that toddlers are finicky and sometimes they just don’t eat. And that’s OK. Our pediatrician mentioned that at Little Miss’s 15-month check-up recently and I was a little bit surprised by it. I guess it makes sense though. There are days that I’m just not really very hungry (doesn’t happen often!) and I don’t eat much. Then other days I’m starving and can’t get enough.
So the same would be true for a toddler, even if it’s a food they typically love. Even this morning Little Miss hardly ate any of her “nanas” which is by far her favorite food and she didn’t want a lot to do with her lunch either. I have to accept that she will eat when she’s hungry and unless this goes on for several days in a row, it’s nothing to be concerned about.
4. I’ve also had to accept that when toddlers are learning to feed themselves, it’s going to be messy. I would never describe myself as a neat-freak, but I do have a weird thing about making a mess with food. I’m not sure I would be a good food fighter. I just don’t like the mess it makes. Between Little Miss being a spitter as a baby, then moving to purees and finger foods, I am having to get over that in a hurry. And now we’re self-feeding, which takes mess-making to a whole new level.Teaching a tiny human to effectively use utensils is both gross and hilarious.Click To Tweet Naturally, the foods that you need a spoon for are already messy, so when you throw a toddler just learning to use a spoon into the mix, it’s a chaotic dance of food, utensil, hand and mouth. I’m amazed as I watch her try to master this new concept and proud of how quickly she’s figuring it out. Then, she abandons her spoon and goes straight for the applesauce with her hand.
5. Which leads me to my last lesson: sometimes you just need to sit back and let them learn. This takes me back to my days as an elementary school teacher. I could talk about a concept and model it until I was blue in the face, but sometimes I just needed to step back and let the kids learn it on their own. The same thing goes with toddlers learning to eat. I can’t stand there at her high chair ready to put each bite into her mouth for her. In fact, that just makes her mad. She wants to learn to do it by herself.
So often I will sit at the table next to her and eat my own food while watching her out of the corner of my eye. This way she has the freedom to try new things without feeling like I’m going to take over at any second and I’m able to keep an eye on her and make sure she’s not going to choke. All while being super proud of how much she’s learned in these short 15 months and simultaneously wondering where time has gone.
Toddler Feeding Hacks
There is one tool in my kitchen that I use probably more than anything else when it comes to getting food ready for Little Miss and that’s my pizza cutter. I use that thing to cut up almost everything she eats. I love that it’s quicker and usually less messy than a knife. The pizza cutter takes care of quesadillas, turkey wraps, pancakes and toast like they’re nothing. I can control the size of the pieces I’m giving her and I like that. It doesn’t have to be any fancy pizza cutter. In fact, I think mine is a cheap-o one from Walmart.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s hard to gauge how much (or what) a toddler is going to eat at any given time. Also, sometimes you’re just in a hurry to get lunch or dinner made and you don’t have time to chop and cook fresh fruits and veggies. Enter the steam-able mixed vegetables and diced fruit in individual cups.
I’m sure some of you now think I’m the worst mother in the world, but hear me out. We’ve done the fresh fruits and veggies and prefer to go that route when possible, but we’ve also wasted a lot of food in the process. For mornings when we need to get out the door to swim class, Little Miss will eat a cup of diced mango with her toast or scrambled eggs. I always get the fruit in water with no sugar added, as that’s my personal preference. She likes mango, peaches, pears and mandarin oranges and I love that the fruit is already cut into pieces that she can handle.
We also like the Steamfresh frozen veggies for lunches and dinners. She will get whatever veggies we are having with our meal, but sometimes we need something quick for her and these are perfect. They’re already cut into bite-sized pieces that are easy for little fingers to grab.
Feeding Products We Love
I’ve found that feeding toddlers is an art of trial and error. We’ve gone through countless sippy cups, utensils and bowls and plates and through our searches we’ve found a few that we love. Maybe you’ve had better luck with other products, but these are what work for us.
We love the Summer Infant Sippy Stackers! Little Miss learned to drink from a straw at about a year old. Before that, we struggled with different kinds of sippy cups: hard spout cups, soft soup cups, spoutless cups…you get the picture. Then we found the Summer Infant Sippy Stackers Training Cup and surprisingly, Little Miss transitioned from a bottle to the training cup very smoothly. Now we use the training cups for her milk in the morning and evening and we’ve moved to the Sippy Stackers Straw Cup (10 ounce) for her water during the day.
I love that the lids on these are interchangeable and when they’re not being used, the cups stack easily in the cabinet. The straws are flexible and easy for her to drink from. We really haven’t had any issues with them leaking unless they get left on the floor upside-down or Little Miss launches one from her high chair and it hits the hard floor.
We realized pretty quickly that when Little Miss started feeing herself, the cute little baby spoons with the metal handle weren’t going to work out for her and she needed something more substantial to hold onto. That’s when we got this Nuby spoon and fork set and they’ve been wonderful! I like the design that is easy for her to grip. They are dishwasher safe, which is a plus too!
Bowls and Plates
I quickly learned that bowls and plates that suction to her high chair tray are the way to go. It’s too tempting for a little one to throw their plate to the floor when they can pick it up! We use The First Years Inside Scoop Suction Sectioned Plate and The First Years Inside Scoop Suction Bowl. The suction on these has been fantastic and the inside scoop makes it easy for Little Miss to get the food onto her fork or spoon.
A word of warning: these are NOT dishwasher safe. I learned that the hard way and ruined the suction on one of our plates. But hand washing isn’t a big deal at all because I like the products so much.
If you’ve made it to the end of this incredibly long post, well done! I hope the information here has been helpful for you and you can learn from (or at least sympathize with) my mistakes in the world of toddler feeding. Do you have any tips or products you would have added? Let me know in the comments!