Recently in the Yummy Toddler Food Facebook group, there was a discussion of what to do when your toddler refuses to sit at the table for meals. I know that this is a topic that most of us deal with at one point or another, so I thought I'd compile some thoughts here as a resource.
Let's start off with the fact that once our babies and toddlers become mobile, they usually love moving! So it can be hard to get them to sit still. They also have fairly short attention spans and like to get on to the next fun thing, and there are times that mealtimes don't fall into the "fun" category. Which is to say, this phase of always wanting to go, go, go is totally normal and healthy. But that doesn't mean that mealtimes are any less frustrating.
Here are a few ideas for dealing with this phase of toddlerhood.
1. Look at your mealtime routine.
Are you eating with your child or doing something else in the kitchen? Is the dog running around underfoot? Is your toddler in a highchair away from the table while the rest of the family is sitting closer together? Any of those things could make your toddler feel distracted or left out, so a few simple changes might help. Sit down and talk to your kiddo during meals. Put the dog in the other room. Move their highchair to the table, or for older kids, consider a booster. Making them feel like they are part of the family in this way may help.
2. Reserve eating on the go for special occasions—and communicate them clearly.
If you are at the park and you want to let your little one keep playing as they munch on something, I think that can be fine. Just communicate that you are doing so because you are at the park and that when you're at home, we sit at the table for meals. It's also important to remember that if they sit down and eat a few bites and want to go play more, that's totally fine—they simply might not need to eat as much food between meals as you expect, and those bites might provide plenty of fuel.
(Note: One of the big downsides to eating while moving is that it presents a much bigger choking hazard, so make sure whatever you give your kiddo is soft, small, and easy to chew. And stay nearby.)
3. Remember that your toddler likely eats faster than you do.
If your problem is really that your toddler won't sit still at the table for as long as it takes the rest of your family to finish eating, I think it's important to keep in mind that toddlers have smaller stomaches, so they need less food and will likely eat it faster than adults. (Except for those times when they eat a single pea at a time, then mealtime can take forever!) Decide how much you care about everyone sitting at the table together for the same length of time. If that's important to you, you may need to actively engage your toddler in conversation or let him look at a book when he's done eating. We actually like having a few minutes of adult time at the table after my daughter is done eating, so we help her wipe her hands and let her get down to play by herself. Usually she does come back and hang out in the kitchen near us, but it's usually at least a few minutes when I can connect with my husband.
What works in your house?