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How do you get your busy toddler to sit down and eat?

1374 Views 14 Replies 14 Participants Last post by  BlueStateMama
My son is 20 months old. He is delightfully active which is great except that it's very hard to get him to stop and eat. He'll wake up in the morning wanting to play and I really have to fight him to get breakfast. He fights getting in his chair at every meal. It's a tantrum almost every time where I just have to sit and wait it out before he's ready to stop and eat. He'll ask to eat, but I guess he just wants to run around with his food. Unfortunately DH is really bad about letting him run around with food so that is probably the main source of the issue. Any ideas to get him to stop and eat? I have already dealt with DH
We sit at the table to eat with him every time, try to have family dinners.
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Honestly? With ds, very spirited, strong willed and high-strung, I often fed him meals in the stroller or car. No judgments, please... For us, it was a matter of his refusal to eat at the table leading to low blood sugar and out-of-control behavior, further preventing any eating, etc. A nasty cycle. We needed to get protein into him however we could, to avoid the outbursts that would otherwise ensue. Once, a well-intentioned pediatrician informed me, "Healthy children won't starve themselves. Hold out, don't offer foods except at mealtime at the table, and he will eventually eat." Four days later, NO food whatsoever and only milk (he was three at the time) he was a hysterical, crying mess ALL day and I really thought he was literally going crazy. Anyway...sorry for the unnecessary details. I think that while the concept of a family dinner is valuable, as long as you and DH spend quality time talking and playing with your child daily, at this age nourishment without struggle is more important than the "family meal."
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How about just letting him graze? This is pretty much what we do with our toddler. He does sit at the table with us a little, but he can get up whenever he wants, come back and pick at his food, etc. I give him dishes of (usually) healthy snacks throughout the day. I think toddlers are good at self-regulating. They are natural grazers, so forcing them to sit at a table 3x a day is a little strict, in my opinion. He WILL eat when he is hungry, as long as you put food out that he has easy access too. And, I agree that the family meal is important and a nice habit to get in to, though it is hard to enforce with a 20 month old. It will get easier as he gets older.
I totally agree with twocoolboys. My 22 month old dd really won't sit in a high chair 3x a day and eat a meal... here's what we do.

When I sit with her to eat 'breakfast & lunch' I let her sit in the big chair (sometimes kneeling) at the table (never ever standing on the chair). She eats sometimes and sometimes she doesn't... I always leave food out for grazing and she will always eat some of it. We eat snacks all day long - raisins, yogurt, crackers, fruit, popcorn, and at 'meal' times I give turkey, soup, waffles, hot cereal, etc..., but she never eats a great deal at any of these times. around 3pm I know dd will start to want more food and between 3 - 6pm she pretty much eats continuously... that is every 15 minutes or so she eats something and when we sit down for dinner she eats a lot... usually meat, rice, veggies. Basically we sit for dinner as a family with dd in the high chair

I am still BF on demand (which is a lot on some days, some days not)
My 26 month old and 12 month old both "sit" down for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but many times they don't eat much, so we promote healthy snacking throughout the day. I think kids that are eating healthy and well are happy kids. Both of mine get very cranky if they don't get snacks. One thing that has also worked really well with my 26 month old, when she was about 18 months we moved her from a high chair to one of those chairs that connects to the table. Now she feels like she is more of a part of the family and wants to eat meals at the table with us.
I think toddlers are designed to graze. We aim to have dd sit at the table with us for dinner, and it often happens, for about 5 or 10 minutes. Not always though and we refuse to ever make a fight out of it. I keep snacks for her on the coffee table in the living room or at her small table in the kitchen- she eats when she's hungry. Once in awhile I might offer her a bite- she's free to take it or refuse it.

I often resort to just handing her something as she runs by
Seriously- as long as something makes it to her tummy
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Sometimes I find myself chasing my 16mo around the house with a spoon ...
: He doesn't seem to understand that it's helpful to stand still while I'm trying to feed him, so he'll just run around eating and then open his mouth wide when he's ready for another bite.
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How do I get him to sit down and eat? Umm, not very well.
We do ask him to sit down with us to eat dinner, but he doesn't last much longer than 10 minutes max at the table. We gave up on keeping him sitting during dinner, but we are still fighting the good fight to insist that mommy & daddy will not get up to play until we have finished our dinner. He's not happy with that limitation either, but it's one that we feel comfortable with!

For some reason, ds loves to stand at the kitchen counter on his stool to eat, or to have his food on his stool in the kitchen and he eats there. So, that's where he gets breakfast, lunch, and snacks. Doesn't bother me, it's easy to clean up and I'm just happy he'll slow down long enough to eat something there.
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I think grazing is the key, no need to make them sit.

My girls will sometimes run outside to play before wanting breakfast.

I personally hate to sit and eat. I like to read or dink around on the computer while eating. My brain just needs somthing to do while chewing up that annoying food. I also fin it uncomfortable sit at a table.

My mom always had bread made so I could make a sandwhich whenever I was hungry. I think that so thoughtful of her as I look back on it. She didn't make food an issue.

Originally Posted by pookel
Sometimes I find myself chasing my 16mo around the house with a spoon ...
: He doesn't seem to understand that it's helpful to stand still while I'm trying to feed him, so he'll just run around eating and then open his mouth wide when he's ready for another bite.

My DD and your son could be twins. I do the same thing too.

I don't mind doing it this way. My biggest fear is DD choking on a piece of food while she's running around. I try to get DD to stay still but it's a struggle. She's always on the move.
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My kids are almost 3 and pretty good at sitting down for a meal now (for about 10 minutes), so I assure you it DOES get better.

I did not want food all over the house, so I gave them two options, they could eat at the dining room table or on the kitchen floor. When they were feeling really wiggly, they would always choose the kitchen floor so that they could leave their plates there and just come and go and graze. I also used to put their plates on their chair seats, so that they could do the same grazing thing from the dining table. They also often eat on the kitchen counter by standing on a stool.

For me, sitting down isn't an issue. I just want to make sure that they eat and that food doesn't get everywhere in the house.
my DD is 17 months old and has the same problem. Here is her usual meal schdule is as follows...

wake up- sippy of milk and cheerio (eaten either in bed with mommy or on the floor while she plays)
snack- whatever i have found for breakfast (she will come back and forth from playing and we will share)
lunch- either leftovers from dinner (if any) or chicken nuggest, easy mac, something quick and not super messy (sometimes eaten in the high chair sometimes not)
snack- grahm crackers or saltines and usually applesauce or some fruit blended to look like applesauce (give her the applesauce in the chair, then take her out and give her whatever cracker)
dinner- veggies while i cook dinner, and whatever we are having for dinner ( ALWAYS EATEN IN THE HIGH CHAIR!)

if she dosn't wanna sit in the high chair for dinner she dosn't took a while for her to realize this but i started early and now she will sit in the chair and eat her veggies so i can cook dinner without her under my feet!
Well, I'm glad I'm not the only one. I get nervous about letting him run around with food because he's almost always running and I have major choking fears. Figures that today he wanted to climb up in his chair and eat at every meal and every snack...
Breakfast is eaten at "their" table - my 3 year old and 16 month old sit together at a little wooden kids table we have (she sits because big brother does and she wants to emulate EVERYTHING he does!
) Lunch and dinner are eaten at the kitchen table as a family, DD in the high-chair. I think we switched DS to a booster when he was around 2.
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