On Friday I got an email from one of you (a reader! You exist!) with a fabulous question:
I have a two year old son who, while he is a good eater of certain
foods (green beans, peas, asparagus, cheese, etc) I made the mistake of
being so worried about allergies/digestive issues that I never really
introduced him to “foods mixed together” until it was too late (does
that make sense)? Trying to get him to eat anything that is more than
one food item in the same bowl is near to impossible. I didn’t know
about baby lead weaning when we started solids, but wish I had. Do you
have any suggestions for getting a “picky to trying new things” toddler
to actually try and like new foods?
So let's talk a little bit about toddler eating habits. I tend to believe that most toddlers are "picky eaters." Obviously there are varying degrees of this, but as long as your child is ingesting something, chances are you're fine. Thatbaby is usually considered a good eater, in that he doesn't distinguish quinoa from dirt. He happily eats them both. But even he goes through nights where he has 2 bites of dinner before declaring himself "all done." Months where he doesn't eat any meat or fowl. Weeks where he hands me all the spinach on his plate.
Part of this is the new-found independence of toddler hood, the ability to control a situation when so much of their life is controlled for them. "I decide if I like beets mom - not you." Part of it is learning what they like and don't like. Which we accept as an adult. If your friend told you she hated tomatoes, you wouldn't try to constantly serve them whenever you dined together.
But as parents, we want the best for our children, and that includes exposing them to a wide variety of foods. We also want mealtimes to be pleasant experiences, the way they were back before we had children, when you could sit and enjoy good food and good company without worrying about getting a piece of spaghetti thrown in your hair. (Our wall has very definite yogurt stains on it) So with that in mind, I present you with some tips for feeding your toddler.
*DON'T make a big deal about what is consumed. This has a three-fold effect. The first being that it's unnecessary stress for you. As I said, if your child is eating something, even if it's not every meal, then there is a low likelihood they will starve to death. And your child will not be on an all-blueberry-all-the-time diet for his entire life. (Unless you introduce instant ramen apparently. So all-blueberries? Okay. All instant-ramen? Don't do it.)
Secondly, as I learned while breastfeeding, children are fantastic readers of emotion, but not great translators. So they can feel the tension/stress/anxiety, but can't attribute it to the fact that it's because they won't eat. Instead they connect it to food in general, which makes eating that (fill in the blank) even less appealing.
Finally, as you may or may not have noticed, toddlers love to do the exact opposite of what you want. You want milk spilled all over the floor? Just tell your toddler not to pour his milk on the floor. So the fastest way to get your toddler to refuse to do something is to ask her to do it.
*DO continue to offer the food you want your toddler to eat. The only way your child will be exposed to the desired food is if you continue to expose them. Eventually, if there's no stress being made over what they eat, they may pick up that proffered food and try it. And like it! Plus this is a great way to determine if they're over that anti-banana/chicken/cheese phase they've been in.
*DO try to work in the foods they're already loving/eating. For us, this meant that when Thatbaby was going through his vegetarian phase I didn't serve steak and chicken every night. That would have been frustrating for all of us. I didn't phase out meat and chicken entirely though, because this is not "Casa del Thatbaby." Instead I compromised and served both foods I knew he would eat and foods that didn't cater to his particularities. Some nights we ate black bean tacos, other nights we had stew.
So if your toddler likes peas, mix them into a pasta or soup. And if he doesn't like mixed food, serve the unadulterated peas on the side. If your child hates veggies but loves cheese, combine what she loves (cheese) with what you want her to eat (veggies).