“Did you seriously just cut that sandwich? Now that sandwich is a piece of shit. I’m not going to eat it. And, besides, if I were to ask you to cut it, I would have wanted it cut diagonally. Triangles, lady. I like the triangles. What the hell is wrong with you?”
That’s what I imagine my toddlers to be saying in their minds as they cry hysterically and throw themselves on the floor, while I stare, face twisted, confused at where it all went wrong–the parenting and the sandwich. What they eat with vigor one day, they chuck on the floor the next day. If you’re like most moms, you’re worried about your kids getting the nutrients they need during this critical time of growth.
Toddlers have so many opinions, and these opinions can drive any parent mad when it comes to mealtime. So let’s work with them, not against them.
Here are 8 REAL LIFE tricks to helping your little one get the nutrients they need.
1) Get your kids in the kitchen.
I know it is annoying, but let them crack the eggs, stir the pasta, dump the cheese all over the stovetop. What’s a little crunch in your morning breakfast, anyway? Yes, it takes extra time. Yes, it is absolutely annoying, but when the kids are involved in the cooking, they are more likely to eat their creation. They feel pride and ownership. And, of course, teaching your kids to cook is a great life skill to begin developing.
2) Sneak it in.
Ideally your kid would love veggies in its earthly form, but in the meantime, get creative. Throw some spinach in a smoothie. Add squash to pasta sauce. Or what about this cheesy cauliflower bread? Not only are they getting some hidden nutrients, but you are also priming their taste buds to enjoy these healthy foods that one day you won’t have to pulverize.
3) Give them choice.
Kids are developing into their own people. I’m sure you’ve noticed. This independence comes in the form of expressing many, many opinions–often. Food is an area for them to assert their power. Give them a sense of control. Try offering choice to help them feel empowered and like the little world-ruler they so aspire to be. “Do you want the green beans or cucumbers with your dinner? You choose.” No matter which they choose, they are eating a vegetable, and your child still feels like she has the say.
Another great way to foster choice at mealtime is to serve meals family style. Let your child serve themselves. They’ll be full of nutrients and control.
4) Play with food. Have no shame.
I know, I know. You are supposed to teach them table manners. But who the hell cares? If you child wants to pretend he is giant eating little broccoli trees off his plate, let him stomp around. Your daughter likes Mickey Mouse, make her sweet potatoes in the shape of a mouse. If your son wants to be a fish in the sea and the asparagus is the bait, let him walk around the table stealing bites. They’re kids. They’re eating and using their imagination. I call that a win.
5) Eat healthy foods with you kids.
One of the best ways to get your child to eat nutrient-dense food is for you to prepare yourself a nice meal, sit down, relax and dig in. As your fork goes toward your mouth–boom–Murphey’s Law…your child will stick their hand in your filet and deem it theirs. Let them try things off your plate. You can even use a dose of reverse psychology. “That’s my kale! Don’t you dare eat it.” They will eat it to spite you.
6) Foster a positive relationship with food, and lead by example.
The first key to a healthy relationship with food is for YOU to have one. Your kids are always watching and following your example. How you feel about food is important. It’s our most primal relationship. One we literally can’t go without. Food is nourishment–not reward or punishment. Teach your children that you eat to be strong and healthy. Food gives you energy so you can work and play, and stay healthy.
Create healthful meals, and comment on how they make you feel. Teach them which foods make their body strong and which foods are only sometimes treats. “This broccoli makes you big and strong!” and “Wow, you must be feeling so strong now that you’ve eaten that.” (Steer clear from “bad” and “good” terminology around food. Again, you don’t want food to be a reward and punishment system).
7) When in doubt, dip it out.
Giving your kid the option to dip something improves their food consumption by 80%. (You’re right, I totally made that up, but my un-researched observation is that dipping foods improves toddler eating drastically). Ketchup, ranch, grass-fed butter, hummus…dip it.
8) Give yourself a break.
If you make food a power struggle, everyone loses. Mealtime should not be stressful. One of the best parenting tips I got from a seasoned mom after my first born was that kids won’t let themselves starve to death. I was chasing him around with food like a maniac trying to get him to take another bite. It’s true. She’s right. They are going to eat. So relax a little. Do your best to provide healthy options.
It will pass. Picky eating isn’t forever.
Stay strong, mamas. Parenting is hard, but you’re doing great.