Q: Help! When my baby first started eating solid foods, he would eat anything and everything — peaches, pears, green beans, peas. You name it, he’d eat it. Now, since he’s grown into a full-blown toddler and is eating more table food, it seems the only things he wants are cookies and cake. I can’t even get him to eat Cheerios! He used to love Cheerios! How do I get him to eat a more balanced diet?
A: First of all, know that you are not alone. There are plenty of parents in your exact same position. Toddlers will be, well, toddlers. There’s a reason their favorite word is “no.” My own toddler has the becoming habit of chewing up his food, then spitting it out when he needs to take a drink of water or sees something else he wants. It’s just one of the things he does that makes him a toddler, not to mention one of the many things he does that turns my stomach. (I don’t care what people say, not everything your baby does is cute.)
I’m going to give you some tips that worked for me, but bear in mind the following: No two kids are the same, and chances are that only one or two of these strategies will work with your little one. Nevertheless, try them all. Just as toddlers are finicky, they are also surprising.
Make it sweet, or cheesy, or whatever else works. Go on, add that maple syrup to those pancakes, melt that cheese over that broccoli, and put a little brown sugar on those carrots. Don’t drive yourself crazy by making your little one eat his vegetables straight up. It’ll be easier on both of you if you make the deal a little sweeter.
Puree some veggies into your lasagna or meatloaf. This age-old tactic is one that mothers have used for generations to get their babies to eat their peas. Jessica Seinfeld even wrote a cookbook titled "Deceptively Delicious" using this strategy. I’ll be honest though, my perceptive toddler can always tell when I’ve hidden spinach in the lasagna, so much so that he’ll roll a bite around in his mouth until he extracts the green imposter from his noodles and spits it back onto his high chair tray. By all means, though, try it. It definitely works for some, so it may work for yours.
Change things up. As hard as it may be for a busy mom, try to have some variety in his diet. Your son may not be eating his Cheerios because he’s simply tired of getting them every day. Try an egg one morning for breakfast, or pancakes another. I found this one particularly challenging and sometimes disheartening, especially when you spend precious time making meatballs and spaghetti only to have your toddler take one bite and throw the rest on the floor. Try to have some easy ready-to-eat meals in the house that won’t create such a frustrating result — things like yogurt, chicken nuggets, frozen veggies that you can pop in the microwave. You get the idea.
Most importantly, don’t fight. Mealtime should never be a battle. This is what all the experts say will give your child an unhealthy attitude toward food later in life. Don’t force feed him if he won’t eat. Simply give him a few options at each meal and (this one worked for me), walk away. Wash the dishes, unload the dishwasher, or if you can, sit down and eat with him. Don’t sit in front of him begging him to take one more bite. You’ll drive both of you crazy and God knows, with a toddler, your life is crazy enough. Take a deep breath, relax and enjoy this special time with your baby because before you know it, that little munchkin in the high chair will be off to college.
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