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!