A reoccurring topic of discussion among my friends with young children is how to make sure their young children eat a variety of well balanced meals. I think at one time or another, each of us has complained about food strikes, single-minded toddlers who refuse all but two or three items, or just how to introduce new foods to our children. I can count on my hands only one or two families that I know that haven’t complained about their kids’ eating habits. Yes, I know it’s normal but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier.
So, for the experienced parents out there, how do you do it? How do you get a toddler to try something new? How do you make sure your kids get exposed to and eat a wide variety in their diet when there are weeks where they refuse everything but chicken nuggets and French fries?
I wouldn’t necessarily consider my kid to be a picky eater most of the time, but let me tell you, she can be pigheaded about what she eats (she gets it from her dad). Recently, she went through a two week phase where she ate a banana a day. Now I can’t get her to take a nibble. Frozen blueberries used to be her sweet treat of choice. Now she turns them down any time I offer. I can’t get her to try avocado and it kills me, because I adore avocado. I have to call chicken when I offer it to her chicken nuggets, otherwise it’s like pulling teeth to get her to eat it. She has a limited number of vegetables that she will willingly eat. I wish it were easier to reason with a toddler (ha!).
For those of you in the same boat or feeling like you are at your wit’s end, here are a few of our tricks that seem to work most of the time:
- Hiding the vegetables. I make batches of meat sauce adapted from a traditional Italian Bolognese recipe and include more than what the recipe calls for. I’ll throw in whatever I have on hand—kale, spinach, squash, mushrooms, swiss chard. The key for both my daughter and husband is to dice or puree the extra vegetables so they are completely incorporated into the sauce. This one is especially popular because it freezes well, so my husband will make this when I don’t feel like cooking.
- Bribery. I wish I didn’t have to use this as much because I feel like bribing my kid to eat her vegetables or try something new takes away from the benefit and is teaching her to hold out for something good.
- I tell her to lick the food to see if she likes the taste. This is the ultimate non-commitment. She figures out or remembers she likes the taste of something then is more willing to take another bite.
- Just keep offering it. It worked for broccoli, now if I could get her to eat avocado….
- Make eating a game. My husband is better at this one than I am. He uses reverse psychology and pretends that he is going to steal her food. She thinks it is hilarious and he can get her to eat dinner in a way that I can’t.
These don’t work all the time, but we keep trying. If you have a picky eater, remember a few things:
- This is probably the only thing your toddler can control in their life, so they will. When all other decisions are made by others it is only natural for anyone and especially for a little person who is just figuring out how many options are out there to want to have some control over their own life. Perhaps you can try giving them options elsewhere, then food won’t be such a control issue. Let them pick out their clothes. Give them options on activities. Give them a little freedom to start making their own decisions.
- It will take an average of 8 – 10 times of offering your child a new food before they begin to readily accept it as part of their diet.
- Toddlers and babies take their calories in on a weekly basis, not a daily basis, so don’t freak out if they eat a ton at one meal and pick for the next few.
- Eliminate snacking and grazing outside of designated eating times. I have a few friends who in order to get their kids to eat, have done this to great success. Sure, they might feel like a slave to the schedule, but allowing their child to get hungry means they are more likely to eat what is put in front of them, even when it is something new. They do three meals and two snacks a day, with milk right before bedtime. If you want to try this with your child, find a schedule that works for the whole family and stick to it.
I remind myself of all of these when my daughter goes through her phases.