Since I last shared my experience of exposing my little man to table foods back in July, a lot has changed. As every mother experiences, little ones grow and change so quickly that it often seems as soon as they develop one new habit, they are dropping it for another one. When I delivered Nu-Val for the Nu-Mom, my son would try just about anything that was placed in front of him. Vegetables, casseroles, fruits, and meats were all fair game. Then, a few months ago, he realized that he has opinions. And lots of them, I must say. Suddenly, if it was not a chicken nugget, hot dog, or strawberry, it was not happening. Throwing his food to the floor to feed the dogs has become a favorite mealtime activity. And don’t even think about sneaking in mashed potatoes between his bites of banana. The tantrum that follows will send you running!
While we often succumb to the toddler demands (because after all, we do need to feed him something after an hour long standoff of him refusing his dinner), we do have some strategies that have helped us ensure our little guy is receiving adequate nutrition. Does he eat five fruits and vegetables every single day? No, he does not. Do we try to at least make it a possibility? Yes! Here are some of the tips, tricks, and determined decisions used in our household to make sure we are serving up variety and expanding our son’s culinary horizons.
Our picky eater trying out lots of veggies on stir fry night.
- Always serve what we are eating first. This was a bit of a struggle for us, because it became so easy to feel defeated when our child refused to eat. For awhile, it became easier to have a couple of chicken nuggets prepared and ready to go from the beginning, to save ourselves from the added stress of a mid-meal meltdown. We realized we couldn’t keep that up, and made the commitment to always serve to Jackson what we are eating. This has meant lots of scraps thrown to the dogs, meals where he may not get a balance of all of his food groups, and certainly some tears, but we have also been utterly shocked by his willingness to eat every single vegetable in stir-fry, and even meatloaf! We don’t win every battle, but we give it a solid twenty to thirty minutes before serving up a backup meal.
- Try, try, and try again! Kids are fickle little beings. One day they love macaroni and cheese, and the next day it might throw them into a fit of hysterics, as happened in our household. With that being said, a vegetable that they refuse to try on Monday may very well be fair game the following week. Don’t dismiss a certain food because it failed once. It may just become a favorite menu item the next time!
- Know that not all meals are the same. While we often will incorporate new foods into lunches, we are a household where both parents work, and so we really put the bulk of our focus on ‘introducing new’ at dinner time. We stick to nutritious favorites like frozen mini pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast most days, and 4-5 days per week lunch is served at daycare, so dinner is really where we seize the opportunity to increase the variety of foods our son is eating. This is where I say you need to pick and choose your battles; allow those that care for your child during the day to serve up newly approved foods, but do your best to get creative with one consistent meal every day!
- Try different preparations of the same food. Raw red peppers may not be high on the ‘yum’ list for your little ones, but take that same vegetable and saute or bake it, and the reaction you receive might be totally different. Don’t be afraid to shake things up; as long as they are eating it, you can chalk it up to a parenting success!
- Keep tried and true staples on hand, because sometimes your child truly will refuse to eat everything on their plate, and in good conscious I cannot justify sending a 17 month old to bed without dinner. We do our best to keep strawberries, clementines, string cheese, and the highest scoring NuVal chicken nuggets on hand, when there is simply nothing else that will work.
- Share snacks. When all else fails, if it was refused at the dinner table, there is a very good chance that it will become a culinary delight when he is eating it directly from our hands away from the table. We often share apples, oranges, granola bars, and other snacks outside of mealtime. While we do not try to make a regular habit out of this and value sitting down for our meals, this is also a great way to pack in a little bit more nutrition (for both parent and child!) before or after dinner. As long as I do my best to keep them healthy, I usually feel good about sharing my treats!
As I have mentioned before, my family lives in the real world, and we face time constraints, busy schedules, and demanding toddlers that make eating healthy something that can become a bit of a challenge. Every child is different, so try new things, be persistent, and continue to do your best to ensure they grow up to be the healthiest version of themselves possible!
Mackensey Stang is a program specialist with BLEND.
Her primary roles include managing Safe Routes to School and the Fit Kids Club Series, and collaborating with local schools and communities to further the mission and objectives of BLEND.