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How to Get Your Two-Year-Old to Eat Octopus

By paulabernstein |

healthy food“Why are so many children picky eaters? Nancy Trigali Piho asks.

Trigali Piho blames it on the parents — or more specifically, the larger culture which assumes that kids won’t like anything other than mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.

After kids get past the age of eating baby food around their first birthday, according to Trigali Piho, “children should be eating essentially what you eat. (This is presuming your diet to be generally nutritious and healthful, and rich in variety and flavor!)”

Trigali Piho is the author of the wonderfully named book “My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything.”

The book addresses answers many of parents’ biggest questions about food and kids. For instance, do you bribe them with dessert? Do you make them clear their plate? Do you ask them what they want for dinner? By the way, the correct answer to all of the above is “No,” but how many of make these classic mistakes?

In short, Trigali Piho’s goal is to encourage parents to teach their kids to love food. She warns parents not to fall into the trap of catering to their kids’ taste buds and feeding them separate foods at a separate time than grownups. If you wouldn’t snack on something or eat something for dinner, why serve it to your kids?

This all sounds like perfectly reasonable advice to me. The only problem is that I’m afraid it’s too late for my picky 8-year-old daughter. As a toddler, she was an adventurous eater, but by the time she turned four, she had stopped trying new things. We, in turn, fell into the habit of feeding her “kid food” like chicken nuggets and mac and cheese.

I want her to expand her culinary horizons, but I also don’t want meal times to be a battle. Besides, according to recent research, picky eating is a highly hereditary trait. After examining the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of twin between 8 and 11 years old, researchers concluded that children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited. Apparently, 78 percent of food aversion is genetic and the other 22 percent environmental.

The good news is that by age seven, most kids are willing to start trying new foods. Unfortunately, my daughter, who turns 9 in February, isn’t one of them.

For other tips for dealing with picky eaters, check out The Family Kitchen.

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About paulabernstein



Paula Bernstein is a freelance writer and social media manager with a background in entertainment journalism. She is also the co-author of Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited.

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0 thoughts on “How to Get Your Two-Year-Old to Eat Octopus

  1. Manjari says:

    This has worked for my twins. We don’t usually make separate food for them or order off the kids’ menu at restaurants. I also just serve what I serve and they can eat it or not eat it. We’ve had this approach since they were babies, which is easier than suddenly trying to get an older child to be adventurous. I’m sure we also just got lucky with kids who aren’t picky. I was never picky as a child either, so maybe they inherited it from me. Now if only they slept as well as they eat…

  2. diera says:

    I agree that there are inborn tendencies that vary from person to person. I have two children who I raised in exactly the same way, and one would happily eat octopus with asparagus on the side, while the other would subsist entirely on French fries if we let her and literally (not figuratively literally, but literally literally) has never voluntarily swallowed a vegetable during the entire three years she has been alive. I think there are thing you can do to encourage children to be adventurous eaters, but I also think there pretty firm limits on how much you can alter a person’s basic approach to food.

  3. Marj says:

    My nephew eats only lunch meat, American cheese food, Hawaiian bread rolls, and fruit snacks. He’s five and he has been eating like this for years. He was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I’m so paranoid about my kids turning out like this, that I give them anything I’m eating as long as it’s safe. My nephew watches other people eating as if he’s not sure what they’re doing. So when my kids want a bite of what we’re eating, I take it as appropriate group eating socialization and share. Humans are pack animals, and we eat communally. This is why so many celebrations seem centered on food. Sociologically, eating together is an important part of being a human.

  4. ann05 says:

    Hmm… we always give the preschooler the same food as us, rarely give him choices, etc. He’s still pickier than we would like. I think there has to be some truth that it’s outside parental control, because we certainly didn’t do anything to encourage or entertain it.

  5. mbaker says:

    My toddler is less picky than I am. His idea of a good meal is sushi and tempura. Basically we have rarely ordered off the kids menu. When he started eating solids we would order him vegetable soup at restaurants and give it to him with most of the broth drained off. Another thing we do is we talk to him in a nonpreachy manner about all of the good things the healthy food is doing for his body while we are eating. For example, when he’s drinking milk we talk about how the calcium is making his bones strong. We don’t avoid sweets but like my mother did for me, I don’t give to him all the time and try to avoid processed sweets in favor of homemade sweets. Any everyday treat in our house is a sweet plum or watermelon.

  6. Voice of Reason says:

    I have the same experience as Diera. It is a big source of stress for me. My six year old son’s diet is extremely limited and the foods he likes best are carbs and dairy. If he could choose, he would have pasta with cheese (homemade, with grated aged cheddar, some olive oil or butter, and about 1/3 wholewheat pasta) every night for dinner. In the past year, we’ve been able to successfully introduce meat into his diet (I’m not especially pro-meat, but the iron and protein weren’t coming from many other sources and I spotted a window of opportunity) but the child will NOT EAT FRUIT. He will nibble at broccoli and peas, so we serve them at every meal. We don’t buy junk food so he doesn’t OD on processed rubbish, but he only ever eats a version of what the rest of us are eating. Tonight we made dough and created our own pizzas; his had no tomato sauce – just pureed garlic, ham and mozzarella.

    My daughter is three and loves nearly all fruits and vegetables and is usually excited to try new foods. When she was ten months old, she leaned over and took some of the Indian food off my plate and I remember thinking, ‘This is different!’

    Weirdly, neither will eat potatoes.

    Maybe it’s just convenient for me to say, but it does seem to me that there is a huge genetic component to this.

  7. Kayt says:

    My 20 month old used to eat basically anything we put in front of him, but he gagged on something about five months ago, and we’re back at square one with him. Gone are the days he would eat hummus and grilled chicken. We’re back to gallons of Greek yogurt and triscuits, macaroni and cheese, and occasionally a veggie sub. Getting him to eat protein is ridiculously difficult, and he has no interest in anything we eat now. My husband is insanely picky too, though, and I am a very adventurous eater.

  8. Linda says:

    I’ve always had the philosophy that I’ll cook healthy meals and put them on the table, then the kids take what they want to eat out of what’s offered. They’re 13, 10, & 5 and don’t have any eating issues. If we go out to eat, it’s usually for a special occasion and they order seafood.

  9. Rosana says:

    I think that some times kids food aversions are just reactions they learned from their parents. My sister does not like tomatoes and has never being shy to express it in front of her kids (so guess what food her kids do not eat). Another example is a lady I know, she insists on getting a separate cheese pizza for her kids because they only like cheese pizza while one of her kids kept picking out the pepperoni from the other pizza and throwing the rest away.
    Altough I have to say that if I try to make my kid eat octopus, I am a hypocrite because I do not eat any seafood. However, if the time comes, I will encourage him to eat it (if he was looking for my support :) Other than that, he has no problem with anything I cook, but I wouldn’t cook a separate meal if he decided to not eat dinner.

  10. kaypea says:

    I think the premise of raising kids who love to eat everything is bogus. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. I have followed every piece of advice for my picky daughter, to no avail. I cannot get her to eat things she doesn’t want to eat. Period. I followed the same exact tactics for my son, and he will eat anything.

  11. Samsmomma says:

    My 20 month old would eat anything when he first started solids, but now he is very particular about food. There are many things he won’t eat just based on how they look, even if that means he doesn’t eat. I’m horrified to read that pickiness is genetic. I was terribly picky as a child, and my son’s Dad is still pickier than most children. He won’t eat pasta with sauce, just butter. And he still goes through phases where he will eat only pop tarts for a month. Yes, I’m talking about an adult, not my son. Looks like I’m in for it!

  12. Magnoliama says:

    I have a cousin who cooks two meals every night. She makes a nutritious meal for the adults and processed crap for her children. I swore that I would never cook two meals. So far, we’ve been incredibly lucky that our 3 year old will eat almost anything. She has her favorite foods of course, but for the most part, she’ll eat anything as long as it isn’t too spicy. My husband and I love curries and spices but I’ve come to tone them down a bit for her. We don’t keep junk in the house and I involve her in meal prep and shopping. She had her first chicken nuggets recently and was disgusted and only ate a bite of one. I figured they can’t want what they’ve never had so we’ve kept her pretty sheltered from most processed “kid” foods. I also nursed her for a little over 2 years and I’ve wondered whether extended exposure to what I was eating has helped her pallet.

  13. Mamorama says:

    Just a short comment. Voice of Reason and Kayt: No need to stress about the protein: Cheese, yoghurt, milk etc are actually excellent protein sources.

    The only other thing you need to make sure your child gets if he/she doesn’t eat meat is iron. That’s also in green vegetables (spinach, broccoli etc) + grains, so if your child eats neither meat, nor green veg and only white bread, and seems to catch a lot of flues etc it could be a wise idea to check with your doctor if he/she can get iron supplements. (When my kid was 1,5 he got iron deficiency, and as soon as he got iron supplements he wasn’t sick again for over a year. Versus every other week for 6 months) Other than that you are fine.

  14. rose says:

    Like other posters, I follow most of these recommendations, and my son (2.5) still doesn’t eat a lot of what I eat. But I don’t actually think of him as a picky eater (even though he plainly is), since I never make him anything special, and I just assume that he’ll eat at the next meal (we have very regular meals and snacks) if he doesn’t eat anything but strawberries for dinner (like last night). We don’t eat a lot of processed foods, and he has a positive attitude towards food (he’ll usually put something new into his mouth, but if he’s not ready to eat it, he’ll take it out), and I figure he’ll start eating more new foods eventually. To me, the important thing is not to be over invested in “getting” your kids to eat – it’s to offer him healthy food and then leave what and how much to eat up to my son.

    For anyone struggling with feeding issues, I highly recommend Ellen Sattyr’s book Child of Mine.

  15. wohm says:

    My daughter eats a wide variety of foods. I attribute that both to genetics and my giving her homemade blended vegetable soups and the like when I introduced solids. She doesn’t always want everything we’re eating but she always gets a little bit of it. She surprised us the other day (she’s almost 2) by eating as many brussel sprouts as we could give her. Her tastes change,from meal to meal and week to week. I think people sometimes forget this. But as others have mentioned I do think there is a strong genetic component to “pickiness.” The answer however is to continue offering healthy foods, even if they are plain or lacking variety. The only reason your child will “only eat box mac n cheese” is if you serve that to him.

  16. Jen says:

    yeah .. I don’t keep mac and cheese or chicken nuggets in my house, but that’s what my son wants. We serve him what we eat and then he just won’t eat. But he used to eat anything. I think all kids go through a picky-eater phase.

  17. wohm says:

    While I don’t doubt that your child is picky through no fault of your own, how is that they are able to choose boxed mac n cheese?

  18. Seattle mom says:

    Hmmm….I have an older daughter who will eat octopus (really!) and a child 2 years younger that only eats bread and cheese. I raised them both the same, more or less. I’ll go with the idea it’s genetic, not anything I did or did not do.

  19. Amanda says:

    Why is it that when kids are picky eaters, almost always, all they seem to want is processed food that’s bad for them???

  20. Ashley Rosales, RD says:

    As a registered dietitian and mother of a 9 month old, I have made it my mission to expose my son to a variety of nutrient-rich foods and flavors early on. Once he started solid foods I became a baby food making aficionado and have found it’s not only a nutritious option, but it’s simple too. It is true though that as babies grow into toddlers they tend to want to exert some control over what goes into their mouths and tummies. For parents who are looking for ways to help their little ones expand their food choices see these Seven Tips for Raising Healthy Eaters. Meals Matter is funded by Dairy Council of California, my employer.

  21. [...] the ranks of Dr. Mary Harris and Nancy Tringali Piho in an effort to raise awareness about the health benefits of the Omega 3’s found in [...]

  22. Jan says:

    My mother always catered to my brother who was/is a very picky eater. She made our dinner & made him what he liked. To this day, & he’s in his 50s, he’s the pickiest eater I have ever seen. He literally lives on chicken, hamburgers, fries and steak-umm sandwiches. He will eat potatoes, but no gravy ever on anything, no vegetables at all, nothing with mayo – extremely picky. I often wonder if he wouldn’t be this way had he at least tried different things growing up.

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