Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Toddler Tips: Food

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" -- How I Failed at Family Dinners and What that Has to Do with You  (Titus 2 Homemaker)


Here are some thoughts about toddlers and food.

My first pediatrician who moved away and left me (Dr. Reed wherever you, you were the best ever), told me, "Don't ever make food an issue, or it will become a battle."  Toddlers can be notoriously picky and obsessive about their food (no touching, don't cut up, do cut up, on this plate, not on this plate, etc.) and some of this can be carried into childhood and beyond.

I took her advice to heart and have had toddlers and kids who have been easy to feed.  Of course they all have their favorites, some of them went through short picky stages, but they are and have been generally agreeable about food.

I have found though, that when you feed a family, all sitting down at once, not just a toddler, you will make different things of course, and this can help prevent the "mac n cheese" dilemna.  That means, prepare food for the family, to eat together, not just for the toddler, to eat separate you.  The family meal!  Pass the dishes around, everyone puts what they want on their plates, and eats it.

And then don't say another word about the food.  Don't cajole, try to get it "right", look worried or concerned, beg them to eat, ask them if it's "alright", talk about the food unless it's "this is delicious!", bribe, worry, etc. I would say almost all the time food issues are about control, not about the food, and it's a vicious cycle.

I think one of the many blessings of a big family is that mom doesn't have time to concentrate on who is eating what, and how much, and can we make it perfect, or make a whole other meal.  The kids go with the flow, because the flow is routine enough to be a habit, but varied enough to not cause ridiculous demands (only eating mac n cheese for example.) I never ever remember saying as a child to my mom, "I don't like that, or "oh no not this again". I just knew better. "Here's the food I made, aren't we lucky to have food (which is said in the blessing), now eat or don't.

Do not overwhelm a toddler with too much food.  A little bit is so much better than too much.  My toddlers would eat better with a little food cut up then a heaping adult plate of food.

So what if it's too late and you have a picky toddler who refuses to eat?

Stop concentrating on the food. Surrender in a sense and start afresh with a new attitude.

Always make something that they will want to eat, even if it's just bread, but don't pay attention to that fact that it bugs you that they don't try anything else. Make it a non-issue as fast as you can, and go about the meals enjoyably. (Strip the control aspect of it.)  Make sure you mention to whoever else is eating with you how delicious something is, or ask if anyone wants to try this or that, but not personally to the picky guy.  (No begging or cajoling.)

(This is not one of mine, just a Montessori practical life food prep video-this is so cute and shows what even a little guy can do!)

Get them involved in preparation if they are an older toddler,  They will be much more likely to eat it themselves if they had a part in washing it, cutting it, preparing it on a plate, mixing it etc.  This works wonders!

Offer babies real food, with lots of variety, because those babies grow into toddlers who will be used to whatever you fed them from the beginning. I learned quickly to not use baby food jars, and just mush up and cut up real food as much as I could.  I really believe that food should be eaten only when it can be probably swallowed and even picked up by the baby with a little help at first, not just spooned in where they have no control. This goes along the line of handing over control of what they put in their mouth to them.

Do not panic about vitamins and minerals unless they are eating nothing but sugar. Think of them getting those vitamins and minerals over a week not a day. Don't keep in your cupboards what you don't want them to eat or get used to. (Or have a hiding spot.)

My baby brother went through a faze where he didn't like much of anything, and my mom told him he could have crackers in place of the dinner. (He was the youngest-you now, special allowances. :)
We joke that he might have eaten Saltines for dinner for years, and he is now around 6 feet 5 inches tall so they didn't stunt his growth too much.

If any seasoned mother wants to chime in with what works for them, feel free!

28 comments :

  1. Hi Sara!
    Love your post! Love that little guy making a snack too! I am always trying to ensure my kids eat well, and looking into what is best for them at each age in life. I just read a great book that talks about the differences between North America (snacking) eating compared to Europe's in regards to children. "French Kids Eat Everything". Very interesting book.
    Stacie

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    1. I enjoyed that book, too, and I often recommend it to others because it offers a point of view that is rare in our country. I agree that if we just assume our kids will learn to like most foods and continue to offer them in a family dinner setting, they will, even though some kids may take longer than others. Just like the example in the book about potty training. Some kids take longer to train, but we don't give up on them and resign ourselves to keeping them in diapers forever. We keep trying, and stop making it a power struggle.

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  2. We used the "No, thank you" bite . We asked them to take one bite, and if they did not like it then they could say no thank you. We also had a lot of chicken; ocean chicken (fish), farm chicken (pork), and carne (any red meat).

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  3. Picky eaters are the worst, and dinner time battles are exhausting. My younger siblings were terribly picky and I vowed to never have one. Even though I had 4 kids, none were horrible at dinner. My pediatrician said the same thing about commenting on the food. And even as a doting Grandma, I will NOT play "Let's Make A Deal" at dinner time.

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  4. Solving this series Sarah... The arm crossing has worked a treat on my two-year-old!

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  5. I agree with all of this! This only thing I would add is do not stop offering something just because they refuse it once (or twice or three plus times). If you stop offering it, guaranteed they will think they "don't like" something just because they haven't really tried it. My youngest refused green beans maybe ten times before she really tried them, now she loves them! They also have a tendency to go through phases of likes and dislikes, subject to change at any time : )

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  6. My four kiddos are always given what I've made and if they don't want it, the only other choice they have is a banana. It's always the same option so it is not an exciting novelty but I know they won't wake up in the middle of the night with hunger pains.

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  7. Thanks so much for this Sarah!! Question for you I have a 6 and a half month old who I just started to feed a few solids to. There is so much conflicting info on this. he has been exclusively breastfed up until now. At what age did you end up giving your babies solids? I am thinking they must have been older if you say you skipped baby good jars all together? I have just been giving my little guy some mushy banana and some other veggies and fruits out of the food processor.

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    1. Kendra, what you're doing is perfect. Some babies want their food mashed up at this age, and some will grab a piece of banana right in their hand. I have had one of each so far. In my opinion, the key at this age is to not stress out about how much they are eating. Their main food is still breastmilk. Keep giving him real food, mashed or not, and see what happens. Take all his clothes off and let him hold the spoon and make a mess. If he likes mashed-up things, give him something thick-ish and let him dip his fingers in it and suck the food off. Give him the opportunity to eat non-mashed things, and at some point he will take it. Don't stress, and don't force!

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    2. Yes to Dixie! I started really slow and just for fun. My ped (the one I loved who moved) told me once they were able to swallow soft foods, to just start cutting up whatever we were having in tiny tiny pieces and that is what I did. I did tons of fruit at this age, and not many cereal products. It is scary when they gag but I think it's important to get them slowly used to many different textures-I just did a trial and error of what they could handle and when.

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    3. Thank you so much Dixie and Sarah!!!

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    4. Hi Sarah! One more follow up! Our ped said we could start feeding my 4 month old cereal and or fruits/veggies - he echoed what Dixie said, at this age, don't stress, just have fun - they are just getting used to having something other than milk in their mouth. I was concerned though, 4 months seems pretty young, do you have an opinion on when to start?

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    5. I think four months is still too young. I gauged when to start on if the baby was able to sit up on their own and old enough to have a pincher grip to at least try to put food into their mouths. I think at this age too, babies show a natural curiosity if sitting at a table with us, watching us eat-they reach and grab and gesture and try to communicate. Then they are ready to try, little bits at a time.

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    6. PS. Here are two good articles about waiting until six months:
      http://kellymom.com/nutrition/starting-solids/solids-when/
      http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/delay-solids/

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  8. that is the cutest video ever, and what great wisdom thank you for sharing!

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  9. Hi, Sarah! I do not think I have ever commented here, but I have been reading your blog for years and finally just want to say THANK YOU! You are such an encouragement to me as a mom who wants to do her best for her kids without guilt or apologizing to anyone for "just" staying home with them. Everything you write is so practical and helpful to me (I have a 9, 6, and 2 year old), and I always feel encouraged after I read your blog. So, thank you for taking the time to share your experiences with other women and mothers. I appreciate it. :)

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  10. Thanks for your blogs! I always feel almost the ignorant parent when I'm talking with others and I'm usualy the one NOT making a thing out of eating & food. Luckily my 2 boys eat well and I've never had any problems, so maybe I'm just not seasoned? ;)

    Breastfeeding went well for me, so after tinier goals I ended up feeding both boys for 9 months to a year and I loved the stuff I read about "baby led weaning". I followed a part of that, but mainly followed my kid. If I noticed he wanted to try a spoon, I let him. My currently 4-year-old loved helping in the kitchen ever since he was 2 or 2,5. A careful guy, so he usually helps me cut up vegetables. I must say that with 2 helpers, a 2 and a 4 year old the helping gets tougher, but I'll try to be patient. Doesn't always work, so hail dad. ;) My older boy currently has a phase he leaves everything green on his plate, when I ask him to try one, he usually agrees immediately and often eats it all, 'cause he does like it... My little one spits everything out he doesn't like, still trying to find a way how to make that one less gross, I'd rather not make seperate plates, so I'll just try to focus on the spitting rather than the food... >.>

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  11. Yes-if I could go back in time I would totally re-do what I prepared for my first and what my expectations were. She, of course, is my pickiest. My fourth eats almost everything, and has eaten all kinds of "real" food from the get-go.

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  12. Sarah, I love when you reinforce the same conclusions that I have reached as a mother. I feel so validated--thank you! I came to the same conclusion early on--don't start solids too early, avoid the commercial baby food jars, expose them to flavors and textures, and let them feed themselves as soon as they can. I have 6 kids, ages 7-21, and they are adventurous eaters now, even though most went through picky phases as toddlers or preschoolers. When we serve something that isn't a favorite, we don't ask, "Would you like some?", but instead, "Would you like a lot or a little?". And I agree with you that growing up in a big family is conducive to raising good eaters. We don't have time to spoon feed babies till they are two, we can't make different food for each person, and we can't hyper-focus on the eating habits of each child at every meal. Offer them good food and teach them about nutrition and keep trying, and it all works out. That is my experience.

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  13. For toddlers and older children the only thing I would add is: sit down with them. This may seem obvious but we all get so busy sometimes this little bit of interaction is all they need.

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    1. Yes, I totally agree-this is how they learn to eat-really! How to use utensils, how to pass food, how to have table manners, how to converse, how to share food. It's so important! Maybe some of the control picky issues can stem from just wanting some interaction. Such a good point, thank you!

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    2. This is usually the case with my 3 yr old. If I stop and sit with him instead of cleaning up he almost always eats:-)

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  14. Starting around 2 our policy is "you dont have to like it but you do have to try it." if they dont like it they can spit it out. our kids seem to be doing well with this approach.

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  15. Reminds me of one of my favorite childhood books, "Bread and Jam for Frances"!

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  16. Me too Charla! I just read that to Janey the other night-so funny!

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  17. Hi Sarah! I'm a long time reader and admirer of your blog! I've got three kids: 9, 6, and 17 months. My oldest is picky and we are in the midst of a major food battle at dinner time. You offered me some great tips! I do have one question, though. I want to follow your advice and not pay attention or force my son to eat anything. I've got to take the power struggle out of the equation. But how would you handle snacks or treats after dinner if he really didn't eat much at all? Thanks!

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    1. I would make sure they are healthy, or at least portioned out. As in, you can't eat a whole bag of cookies, because you didn't eat dinner, but everyone can have two, including him. You have to "erase" the tension, and a lot of that is just letting it go and remaining completely neutral about food-treat him as you would the others.

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