Phoebe Renfrow, age 2, hasn’t sat through a full meal since she graduated from her high chair to a seat at the family table. “She fidgets, takes a few bites, then gets up and walks around,” says her mom, Jennifer, of Tulsa, OK, who lives on a U.S. Army base near Heidelberg, Germany.
Is it possible to get a toddler to sit still and eat? Yes — for about ten minutes max, says Sandy Procter, a maternal and child nutrition specialist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. A toddler’s short attention span and love of exploration means nothing holds her focus for too long.
To get her to stay in her chair and eat more than a spoonful:
Gauge her stamina. Figure out her limit by keeping an eye on her (and a clock) over the course of a few meals. Then, use this to decide what to feed her, and how much.
Sit her down when dinner’s really ready. Don’t call your little wanderer to the table until the broccoli’s steamed and the milk’s poured. Otherwise, you’ll use up at least half of those precious six or so minutes!
Make mealtime fun. Set her place at the table with cute dishes and utensils, such as silly straws or fun plates with dipping wells.
Let her go — but not too far. Set up a corner of the kitchen or dining room for quiet play: She can flip through a book or stack blocks while you finish eating. She’ll get a view of how your family enjoys meals together, and you’ll be able to finish in peace.
Make it clear when dinner is over. Once your toddler leaves the table, put away her food so that she won’t come back and munch. Soon she’ll recognize that when she gets up, her meal is over. Worried she’ll go hungry? Give her healthy snacks at regular times during the day so she gets the calories she needs.