Tag Archives: picky eaters

A Toddler’s War on Food: Finding Peace in Compromise

This post also appeared on My Big Jesus!  

Sometimes, toddlers are picky. Okay, fine. Toddlers are picky. End of sentence. It’s hard to get them to do anything you’d like them to, such as sleep, clean up, wear clothes, use the potty, or eat healthy. This last one can be a particular battle at our house. Our family cooks a lot, most of our meals actually, and so I know that when I cook, it’s probably healthy, and usually pleases my kids. But sometimes, I can put three of my toddler’s approved foods on his plate, and he won’t touch them.

This raises a few concerns for me. First and foremost, I want him to be healthy, and grow strong. I know that he’s got to have good food (or food at all!) to do that. So when I put a meal in front of him, and he screams for candy and won’t touch it, I get worried. Or when I choose something I’m sure he will like (i.e. he’s liked it in the past), and he refuses it, I’m torn whether to just let it go and not worry that he isn’t hungry/doesn’t wait it, or fix something else that I think he might want. But I don’t want to be a short-order cook, and I don’t want to concede every time and feed him what he wants (ice cream). Sometimes I can’t even convince him to sit at the table for more than 3 minutes, so how can I possibly expect him to eat a full meal that I’ve chosen for him?

We compromise.

This means that sometimes, neither of us gets what we want. But most times, we both get a little of what we want.

The first thing I do is try my hardest to put one thing on his plate I know he will eat. This usually translates to some sort of fruit. He’s a fruit lover, and I know if I want him to eat green beans, I need to give him a little mandarin orange, too. Often I find that when he starts eating that item, when it’s gone, he moves seamlessly on to whatever else is on his plate. Winning!

The second thing I do is try to let him choose his plate, choose where he sits, etc. For example, my daughter (who’s almost four) finishes her food before he does almost every time, simply because she doesn’t fight about it (anymore) and she’s in a very hungry phase right now. So he sees her running around and he’s only taken four bites, I don’t want him to get up yet but he’s ready to play. So sometimes I let him sit next to me in the living room, or out on the porch, or in front of the TV, and help him (cleanly!) eat more, and all the while, he doesn’t feel like he’s left out.

This all came into perspective for me one day when my daughter finished before him, and went outside to blow bubbles. He could see her through the window, and wouldn’t eat another bite, begging to go outside. Finally, I just offered to sit with him outside, and finish his lunch there. He happily sat on the bench with me, surrounded by bubbles, eating his lunch. It seemed like a battle won for both of us. We didn’t need to fight – we needed to change our perspectives.

Good Eaters

Getting your kids to make healthy eating choices is tough. And as much as I want them to choose fresh vegetables over fries, and fresh fruit over fruit snacks, it’s just not always going to happen. And I think that’s a good thing.

You see, kids should eat junk sometimes. For instance, who wants to be the mom of the kid at a slumber party who won’t eat the cinnamon rolls they heated up for breakfast? Or the kid who won’t eat a hot dog at the baseball game? I’m not saying either of those are bad things to feed your kids; my kids eat those things plenty. But we try to not have them on too regular a basis.

Usually, my kids are okay with the foods we choose to feed them. For toddlers, they’re extremely eclectic eaters, typically enjoying everything from Asian food to Mexican food (complete with spicy salsa) to salads. We tried (and will try with the third) to introduce them to lots of flavors and spices early on so that they wouldn’t have to only eat plain, boring food… mostly because we don’t like our food that way. We didn’t want to sacrifice our food preferences when we had kids.

But sometimes, my kids are totally picky. For instance, right now, they won’t eat leftovers. This is a bad thing for multiple reasons. First of all, I end up throwing more food away, and I hate that. I’m fairly good at portioning their food for them, so that there isn’t too much left on their plates at the end of meals, but if it’s leftovers (of any kind, homemade or takeout), they take two or three bites, and I can’t force any more down them. Secondly, it’s tough when you’re cooking to make the exact amount of food that will be eaten. I’m not the cook in our family, so the job doesn’t usually fall to me to do that, but Hubby (sorry babe) isn’t great at it either. The only good thing about that is that he loves leftovers and rarely wastes food (thanks babe).

When my kids are picky, I feel like it’s a catch 22. I want to take a stand and say, “You’ll eat what’s on your plate or nothing.” knowing that if they’re hungry, they’ll eat at least some of it. I don’t want them  to think that I’ll just make meal after meal until they decide they like something. But then again, I don’t want them to go hungry, or to lose their appetite for something because they’ve got a bad memory attached to it. That may sound crazy, but I’ve got adult friends with stories about how they were forced to eat something and now they don’t eat it, or how their parents always fixed a certain thing too often, and now they hate it. I don’t want to ruin a certain ingredient or dish for my kids because I forced them to eat it when they didn’t like it, or because they burned out on it.

Here are a few things I’ve learned to help them keep up their good eating skills:

  1. Put small helpings of everything in the meal on their plates. They tend to get tired of things after a few bites, but whatever they ask for more of, they can have. I waste less food, and they like the variety.
  2. Use ingredients in a variety of ways. We try to not make green beans the same way every time, or to only use basil in spaghetti sauce. That way, if they don’t like the green beans one way, they’ll probably find another way that they do like them.
  3. Hide vegetables in sauces, smoothies, and baked goods. This is a tried and true method used by many parents of toddlers, and I am a strong advocate. My kids eat zucchini in muffins, spinach in smoothies, and carrots and squash in their spaghetti sauce. Do they know? Maybe. If they do, they don’t care.
  4. Give them choices, and let them choose what they want whenever you can. I try to give them an “either or” situation if at all possible, and I try to ask them if they’ve got a preference. For instance, my son will sometimes ask for salsa, and my daughter will sometimes ask for sushi. They just as often ask for apples or bananas as snacks. Why not give them what they want if I can?

Do any of these work for you? Do you do something different to ensure that your kids are good eaters? I’m always looking for new ideas… tell me about how your family eats!