Before I was a parent I was deluded enough to think that I could will myself into having an adventurous eater. If I just made her healthy things from the start she would never know the difference and would never end up being one of those picky toddler eaters I’d heard so much about. Yeah, about that … Totally eating my words.
This meal time pickiness business is the worst. It’s like one day she was eating carrots and broccoli and the next she refused to eat anything that wasn’t a carb. I don’t give her treats all the time or anything, and she’s never had a beverage that wasn’t milk or water, so what gives? My doctor assures me it’s a normal phase and that it will get better eventually. I’m holding on hope, but it feels pretty bleak when you’re deep in the trenches of toddler pickiness.
I’ve definitely shed a tear or two over this food struggle, but in the past few weeks thing have been looking up. I’m far from perfect and we still have some days that are better than others, but overall we’re definitely making some progress in curbing the meal time pickiness. Here are a few things that have helped.
1. Nixing snacks
This has simultaneously been the hardest and most successful of all of our tactics to curb pickiness. Snacks are pretty much the holy grail when it comes to calming a grumpy toddler. Those little cheddar bunnies can be your very best friend during the witching hour between nap and dinner time. That said, we’ve started cutting out snacking. I’ll admit that doing this definitely requires a bit more preparation, and if I’m off my dinner game it can be a total fail, but overall I’ve noticed that my daughter is much more likely to eat what I serve her when she hasn’t had a snack since she’s more hungry.
2. Offering a variety
This works especially well at lunch time. I usually give her a variety of options to choose from and put them altogether on a partitioned plate (you could also use an ice cube tray). The result is a bento style lunch that encourages my toddler to try more things. I try to limit the obvious things that I know she’ll love (i.e. bread), but still include them nonetheless. I never want any food to feel like it’s forbidden. A sample of things I might offer during a lunch could be leftover chicken, black beans, cubes of cheese, raisins, apples, carrots, etc. She doesn’t always eat everything, but she’s definitely more apt to try things in this format. It’s also a great use for leftovers!
3. Creating a sauce
For some reason toddlers are obsessed with sauce. I mean, I like sauce, but for toddlers it’s on another level. Whenever I can I include some type of sauce to entice my child to try the food. Last night I made panko-crusted cod fillets with a lemon dill sauce and it was a smashing success. I was shocked, but she LOVED the “pickle sauce” (AKA the lemon dill sauce that accompanied the dish). I’ll take it! I try to branch out beyond ketchup, although I know she really loves it. Hummus is a hit as is apple cider vinegar for her carrots.
4. Only making one meal for everyone
I am not a short order cook and I refuse to be one. Unless we are eating something super spicy I am unwilling to make my child a separate meal, and even then it will simply be a variation of what we are already eating sans some of the spice. Sometimes she doesn’t eat dinner and that’s OK. On the days that this happens I often give her a small glass of milk before bed and she wakes up super happy to eat at breakfast time.
5. Not using food as a bribe
This sounds terrible when I actually write it out, because “of course you shouldn’t use food as a bribe!” But let’s be real … you know you’ve done it too. In totally dire situations I’m not above offering a treat (think particularly hellacious grocery shopping, flights, or waits at restaurants), but I try my best not to turn food into a reward system. Making food “just food” helps take the good or bad out of it and makes her more apt to eat what is offered.
6. Making grocery shopping a part of the process
Grocery shopping is pretty much the bane of my existence. I dread it all week long and it’s even worse when you have to drag an unwilling toddler along. That said, I’ve started trying to make grocery trips a part of the meal process for my daughter, and it’s made her much more interested in the foods I make. When we’re at the grocery store we talk about the foods we are buying, how they are grown, where they come from. I let her touch and smell and help me fill our produce bags. We talk about what I’m going to make with the different components, and when meal time comes and she sees them we’re able to talk about how she helped me in choosing those items. She feels more invested in the food and more likely to eat it. It also makes grocery shopping less of a drudgery.
7. Including my toddler in meal prep
I’ve found that when I let my toddler be a part of the meal-making process she’s much more inclined to eat (or at least taste) the foods I serve as well. Letting her help with the pouring and mixing and any other little prep definitely helps. One of her favorite tasks is to help me snap green beans. Even though they’re still not her favorite food, she always tries one or two come meal time because she helped to make them.
8. Letting go
In the end I’ve realized that I just have to let it go. A struggle with a toddler over dinner? That’s definitely not a hill I’m willing to die on. The more I fight my toddler on the food issue, the more she resists, and it just makes us both miserable. In the end I just keep offering foods and encouraging her to taste them. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but ever since I relinquished the power struggle there have been a lot more wins than losses.