Ahh, the joys of feeding the independent, newly opinionated toddler! While babies may at least try a food once and are generally predictable in their likes and dislikes, the toddler’s newly found will is often expressed in what he or she decides to eat. What’s a parent to do?
1) Continue to offer a variety of foods. It often takes 17 introductions to a food before a child will like it. Keep putting those peas on the plate, even if it’s just 5 peas, and one day she may just pick them up and eat them.
2) Be consistent. Some parents insist that their child eat one bite, some want them to clean their plate – whatever your rules are, be consistent so your child will remember and be able to follow through. We do one mandatory “taste;” the food may come back out, but at least he has tried it once!
3) Substitute. Is your child refusing to eat carrots? Try sweet potato, mango, or peaches instead to give her the vitamin A. Won’t touch milk? Try yogurt or cheese for calcium and vitamin D.
4) Disguise. While it is definitely important to keep offering the rejected food, you can also disguise it in a favorite dish. Carrot puree in pizza/spaghetti sauce, Spinach in a smoothie, or even pureed carrots in “peach” yogurt are creative ways to get your toddler used to a new flavor. The two books The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious both capitalize on this theme. Do the math to make sure it’s worth the effort though…if you are only adding 1/4 cup of cherry or spinach to a pan of brownies or a batch of cupcakes, it comes out to very little extra nutrition per serving and the child is still getting a lot of sugar and white flour.
5) Don’t buy it. If your child refuses to eat anything but animal crackers and apple juice, keep those items out of the house for a while. I promise, your child will not starve forever if there are nutritious alternatives offered to him on a regular basis.
6) Set the example. Toddlers are great mimics, and your child won’t want to munch on mixed veggies if you are chowing on M&Ms. However, if you both sit down to a snack of apple slices and cheese or carrot sticks with a lowfat yogurt dip she will be much more likely to give it a try.