When you're an adult the steamed broccoli is just plopped onto your plate right next to the drab, boring looking chicken fried steak.
No one bothers to make a smiley face out of gravy or to mold the mash potatoes into a castle. Of course, if you were to do that stuff on your own you'd get dirty looks from your spouse as well as the waitress.
But if you're a toddler it's perfectly okay to make eating fun. In fact, it's encouraged (those toddlers get all the breaks).
Before we jump right into the 12 ways to make food fun for toddlers, we should probably discuss their eating habits.
Toddlers don't really eat meals they just snack and they do so all day long. This eating pattern is a result of their small stomachs and their ability to burn calories extremely fast (if only that lasted into adulthood). A toddler's stomach is about the size of their fist. So obviously it doesn't take much food to make a toddler full.
I know what you're asking right now, "Okay their stomachs are small, that makes sense, but why are they such notoriously picky eaters?"
Well, a human triples his or her body weight during the first year of life. But humans of toddler age, 2- to 3-years old, gain weight at a much slower pace (although your clothing bill may disagree).
Since they gain weight more slowly, they need less food. Since they need less food they instinctively realize they can afford to be finicky (lucky you).
Finally, toddlers are like little Magellans. They are constantly exploring the world around them. Not only does this exploring burn calories but it also makes it harder for them to sit still and eat.
Now you know why your toddler is a persnickety grazer that never seems to want to slow down for meal time. That's also why it's important to make food fun for toddlers. The more enjoyable you make eating, and eating healthy, the more likely they are to develop responsible eating habits in the future.
Keepin' It Healthy, Yo
This isn't exactly fun but it is important. Since toddlers are extremely active and eat very little it's important that they eat the right kinds of foods. For each snack (meal) try to include at least two different food groups. Also try to stick to nutrient-dense foods like avocados, broccoli, brown rice, cheese, fish, kidney beans, pasta, peanut butter, poultry, sweet potatoes, and yogurt.
Beyond the old airplane trick, there are some basic things you can do to make any food fun for your toddler. The first thing you can do is name the food. Eating something called "Broc Wee" or "Avo Cado Wado" is much better than eating broccoli or avocados (I still call tomatoes "tom toms"). Another trick is putting a face on their food. For instance using peanut butter to draw eyes and a smile on a piece of toast is always a crowd pleaser.
Dip It and Dip It Good
For a toddler, a dip and something to dip with is pure unadulterated fun. It's really like a cross between craft time and snack time. For dips, look to yogurt, peanut butter, cream cheese, cottage cheese, and guacamole. For dippers think about apple slices, pear chunks, bell pepper strips, or toast. Don't be afraid to mix and match. Peanut butter and bell pepper may not sound good to you but your toddler may love it.
Bring It On Cone
Take an ice cream cone or a wafer ice cream cup and fill it with bite-size fruit. Remember toddlers are tiny so make the fruit chucks very small. Your toddler can eat the fruit right from cone or they can pick the fruit out with their fingers. While they are at it they can also eat the cone. I do a similar thing with martini olives.
Spread Your Things And Fly
Another thing toddlers like to do is smear things onto other things (so do some adults but that's another story). So help them explore that skill. Show them how to spread peanut butter, cheese, or fruit concentrate onto toast, crackers, and rice cakes. You'll probably need to teach them how to use some sort of spreading implement or you could always have them use their fingers.
String Cheese Incident
Who doesn't love a "string" of food? I'm still waiting for string bacon. String cheese is a great finger food that comes preassembled and ready to eat. Give your toddler two and they can use them as drumsticks in between bites. Another good idea: cut the string cheese into bite-size chunks and insert stick pretzels into the cubes.
For a change of pace your toddler can drink a snack instead of eating one. Make them a smoothie using milk, fruit, wheat germ, yogurt, honey, and/or peanut butter. Keep in mind that it's a good idea to avoid raw eggs (salmonella poisoning). Done right, a smoothie can be a very healthy and filling snack.
Just Try To 'Toppings' That
Toddlers like food with toppings and why not? It's an awesome concept: food topped with more food. Toppings are not only a good way to combine two food groups but it's also a good way to broaden their palette. You can top a food they like with food they haven't tried or aren't particularly fond of eating.
Just Another Fruit Brick In The Wall
Dissolve three envelopes of unflavored gelatin in 3/4 cup boiling water. Add 12-ounces of your toddler's favorite frozen juice concentrate (after all every toddler has a favorite frozen juice concentrate). Stir everything up until it's thoroughly mixed. Pour the concoction into a lightly sprayed 9-by-13-inch pan. After allowing it to chill for several hours, cut into fun shapes and serve. It's like eating building blocks.
Grab yourself a compartmentalized dish, an ice-cube tray, or a muffin tin-something bright, inviting, and safe. Fill the compartments with a variety of bite sized and nutritious finger foods like apple slices, broccoli florets, carrot bits, cheese blocks, and cereal. Place the buffet near their play area or somewhere they can easily get to it. Your toddler can graze on this smorgasbord for about hour or two before you have to throw it away (the food not your toddler).
Yes, We Have No 'Frozen Bananas'
Bananas are the perfect food. Think about it, they already come in their own package. However, the banana can be made slightly better if you cut one into relatively thin circles and then roll it in crushed cereal or coconut. Place what you have in a dish and freeze. This is a great snack for your toddler on a hot summer day.
Dried Fruit Of the Spoon
Dried fruit is often overlooked as a healthy snack. It's usually better for your toddler than fruit snacks because dried fruit lack preservatives, food coloring, and artificial flavoring. Also, dried fruit is a nice change of pace from regular fruit; even toddlers get tired of eating the same old banana chunks and apple slices all the time.