If dinner time is drama time at your house, you’re not alone.
Christine and I have both lived through the years of having toddlers at the table - the tears, the NOs!, the picked over plates, the refusals to sit down, the dropped food and turned over bowls … the list of potential eating problems in little ones goes on and on. And unfortunately, sometimes the best advice you will get is just “wait it out” – they are children, after all!
But it’s not just a matter of waiting until they’re teens and hoping they’ll outgrow it. Here are some concrete steps that you can take now, while your kids are in the early eating years, that will set them on the right path for healthy eating for years to come.
Practice your sales skills. When presenting new foods to kids, you often have to do a sales job. Don’t just set the squash or casserole or salad down in front of them without a little pep talk. “Wow, doesn’t that dish smell good?” “Look at how beautiful this eggplant is; I bet it will taste even better!” “I can’t wait for you to try Thai food; it’s my absolute favorite!”
Make food a positive part of your life.If you have an interest in food, your children will absorb that, just as they will a policy of eating whatever is available, whenever you are hungry. Start teaching them that food can be a beautiful positive in life: Show them pictures in cookbooks or cooking magazines, take them with you to the farmers market, point out an interesting new restaurant when you drive by.
Start with just a bite… Remember that little kids have little stomachs. When you prepare your toddler’s plate, start with just one small spoonful of each item that you are serving. This gives your child an opportunity to “succeed” by finishing everything on his plate.
… and have kids eat it!What if you are serving mashed potatoes, chicken and green beans, and toddler gobbles up the potatoes but refuses to eat anything else? No more potatoes until the bite of chicken and green beans is gone.
Don’t be afraid of spices and sauces! You know how much that basil pepper sauce enhances your tuna; why wouldn’t your child like it too? If you’re afraid that it will be too hot, try stirring a little sour cream or milk into your child’s portion…but do let him try it!
This goes with this. Almost all children go through a phase of picking apart complex dishes, eating only the item(s) that they like. While this is OK in very young children who are still trying to sort out different food flavors, try to move your kids beyond this as soon as possible. Spaghetti and meatballs are eaten together, not in separate dishes!
Keep the snacks interesting. One of the biggest pitfalls of most children’s eating is their menu for snack time. It’s so easy – but ultimately defeating – to fall back on packaged products like crackers, applesauce and yogurt. If you’re kids are still snacking, work to make their snacks an interesting part of their eating day. Good cheese, new and various fruits, unflavored Greek yogurt are all better snacks than are standard kiddie foods.