It’s ironic that Kula Baby is becoming a picky eater when I spend so much time focusing on healthy nutrition for children. And look at his cute face, can you believe that kid is giving me a little trouble in the kitchen? As I sat at my girlfriend’s house last weekend watching her 16 month old son calmly agree to be spoon fed by his mother, I wondered…DEAR GOD, WHY ME?! Lately I spend most of Kula Baby’s meals trying to act casual so he doesn’t know I am freaking out about the fact that he’s suddenly developed a picky palate. This is the same kid who spent the first 14 months of his life eating whatever we put in front of him. Those days are long gone. Texture? Not interested. Colors? Not more than one color in a meal, please. What about tricky games to get him to eat his dinner? NOT FALLING FOR IT MAMA.
Sure, it could be his age. Our pediatrician warned us this phase might be coming, but I didn’t believe it. Some might say I was overconfident about the fact that our baby ate ANYTHING we gave him. Early on I refused to make him a second meal if he found the first one unappetizing—I’d shout to my husband: WE’RE NOT IN THE BUSINESS OF MAKING TWO MEALS! No way. Not in this house. You hear me Kula Baby?
However, lately I’ve been known to fold when I get really desperate. I end up making him toast with hummus if all previous meal attempts fail. And to be honest, I feel a bit like a failure every time I give in. Some days are better than others, and I’m far from giving up because yesterday he ate Baked Broccoli Gratin like he was the last starving child on earth. So there’s hope…on good days.
There’s a lesson here. I get it, Universe. Thanks.
I’m not alone in my struggles. When babies become toddlers there is an inevitable struggle for independence. Babies who were once happy to be spoon fed by their parents suddenly start clamping their mouths shut at dinner time. After multiple tries to get baby to eat dinner, parents may panic and start reaching for any food item, including processed “toddler food” to keep their child from starving to death (more on that later). These processed foods are packed full of salt, fat, and sugar—tastes we are hardwired to crave in nature—and pretty soon processed food is all a baby will eat. In a study published by the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, it was found that French fries are one of the top 3 “vegetables” (I use the word loosely here) given to infants ages 9 to 11 months and by 15 to 18 months French fries are the NUMBER ONE vegetable consumed. Additionally, by 9 to 11 months, more than 40 percent of children are given cookies, cakes, pies or pastries almost every day. But you know the really bad part about all this? Food preferences established between the ages of 18 months and 2 years will likely stay with your child for the next 8 (yes, eight) years. Bottom line: Don’t give in to processed food temptations or you’ll pay for nearly a decade (no pressure).
So what can you do to encourage children (even the picky ones) to eat healthy foods? Here are a few tips you may find helpful when trying to feed a picky toddler.
1) Be the Boss of Junior. Don’t give up on green beans if your child refuses them the first few times you try. Tenacity is key here mamas! It can take as many as 11 tries before your child decides to eat a particular food. Try and try and try and try again. To be clear, these 11 attempts should not happen in the same meal or you’ll be cleaning it up off the floor while your child screams in protest. Instead, spread the introductions out over weeks and months and try recipes with different variations on the same food.
2) Don’t Be Boring. Try giving your child variety when you serve up food by offering small bowls with different foods. Your child will love to dip and mix (and hopefully taste, too!). By 18 months, spoon feeding is almost impossible. Children want to explore at this age. Let them feed themselves, use their hands, and make a mess. It makes me cringe to even type this because I know how annoying it can be to keep cleaning up after your little one, but think of it as part of your job description.
3) Imitation is the Highest Form of Flattery. Even the most independent toddler wants to imitate his parent. Letting your child observe you cooking in the kitchen (give him a bowl and mixing spoon so he can “help”), and try to make foods you both can eat together. If baby sees mama eating green beans, he may be more likely to try them himself.
4) Scream Later, in Private. Acting frustrated, negotiating with your child, or attempting to force food down your child’s throat will only back fire on you. Instead of eating, your child will dread mealtime and may have food aversions for years to come. Try to stay cool, calm, and collected. Don’t forget to smile and have fun. Oh, and laugh a lot, too. Are you tired yet?
5) Hand Over the Reins. You’re going to have to give up control of the spoon at some point. Perhaps you can try the 2 spoon trick for awhile (giving your child one spoon and keeping one for yourself) but eventually your child will win and assume full rights to all mealtime cutlery. The sooner you accept this, the better.
6) Play a Little Hide and Seek. Before I had kids I thought I would NEVER hide vegetables in meals. Then I had kids and well…I laugh at my pre-kid ideals. Hiding vegetables is sometimes a necessary coping mechanism when dealing with a picky toddler, go with it! Here’s one of our favorite breakfast recipes. This dinner is also a hit once and awhile. And here’s a whole list of recipes for picky eaters!
7) Your Child Will Not Starve. When he gets hungry enough he’ll eat, so try not to panic and over feed your picky eater with snack food. Stick to the whole food game plan and you should be o.k.
8) Accept Your Mission. What mission? To keep trying different recipes until you find one your child likes. It’s out there, I promise.
What tips have you found helpful when feeding your picky toddler?