Countless meals with my toddler-aged son, niece, and nephews have taught me that toddler eaters fall into five types. Regardless of geography or circumstance, if you’ve got a toddler, then he or she can be classified as follows.
One day your toddler might be one kind of eater, the next day another — that’s just part of the joy of childrearing. With this handy chart, though, at least you’ll know what you’re dealing with.
To the Artiste, food is not meant to be eaten. Most certainly, absolutely, definitely not. Instead, food is the medium through which she expresses her world, usually abstractly. At breakfast, she paints a self-portrait using bananas and oatmeal. At lunch, she sculpts the avocado into a castle or a stalactite. Frankly, you’re not sure what it is, but it’s meant to be something, given how she howls when you clean it up. While the artiste sees her high chair tray as the ultimate canvas, she’s not above depicting her world on her parents, her face, and, yes, even the family dog.
The Refusenik would prefer not to eat. He clamps his lips shut, so that nary a crumb will enter. Paradoxically, the speed with which he’ll reject what you’ve offered is inversely proportional to the amount of time it took you to cook it. Perhaps he would rather stare out the window or peer into the murky depths of his sippy cup, or perhaps he’s opposed to three square meals and two snacks a day on principle. Regardless, he’s not eating. It doesn’t matter if you put down the mac and cheese he gobbled with such gusto last week, buy him a personal pizza (sauce on the side), or let him steal licks from your ice cream cone. The Refusenik simply refuses.
The Entertainer will do anything for a laugh. She feels that mealtimes are for inspiring her audience to delight in her antics, not to sustain herself with vittles or nourish herself with drink. She’ll point to the ceiling and orate for hours. She’ll take her bowl of spaghetti and tip it on her head. She’ll give endless high-fives, make funny faces, do an obviously choreographed arm ballet. She’ll lock eyes with you, take a spoonful of pudding, and fling it at the wall, beaming all the while. She’ll sing a lively tune of “ga-ga-ga-ba-da.” Your smiles are all she needs to survive and thrive.
The Hoarder stores food anywhere he can: in his cheeks, down his onesie, under his thighs. Parents of hoarders are often fooled into believing they’ve been blessed with good eaters. “Oh, yippee,” they’ll think as the food disappears. “He’s hungry today.” Or, “Wow, he must really love peas! I hit this one out of the park! He’s eating so well!” Then these parents discover the truth, and it is heartbreaking: most of what’s been set forth in front of the Hoarder has actually been snuck beneath the high chair’s cushion, dropped to the floor, or tucked between his double chins. Basically, the food has gone everywhere but the belly.
The Hoover eats whatever is put before her. Stewed apples, string beans, soft shell crab, sushi, saag paneer, scrambled eggs, stir-fried tofu — whatever you make, and however you serve it, she’ll eat it, without complaint. Hooray! The Hoover seems like every parent’s dream. Ah, but there’s just one catch: you can’t watch the Hoover work. Using her tiny paw as a shovel, the Hoover gobbles up all that sits on the placemat, preferably in the weirdest, most unpalatable combos possible. While all parents want their picky toddlers to eat, no one wants to be subjected to contemplating how mango-pickles-raisins or spinach-Cheerios-yogurt taste all mixed together.