As a working mom of a toddler, the topic on my mind this week is HOW DO I GET MY KID TO EAT VEGGIES?!
When my son started eating solids around 5-1/2 months, I remember “mommy group” mommies boasting about their gourmand infants’ eating habits (e.g., “My daughter loves beef cooked with onions and potatoes” and “My son just adores tofu blended with fruit”). It was then that I promptly decided my son was not an adventurous eater. Now at 13 months, he is still, alas, not an adventurous eater.
Don’t get me wrong… the boy can eat a lot when he’s hungry. The problem? He eats the same foods over and over (like bananas, applesauce, mac’n’cheese, yogurt) and hastily chucks the token green bean, squash chunk, zucchini slice, chicken and salmon cubes, hard-boiled egg and peas at the family dog.
Now as a registered dietitian, I have counseled many parents on their picky eaters… giving them tips on relaxing expectations, not letting their children use food as manipulation tools, sneaking in nutrients and just letting go. After declaring my boredom with his menu, I decided it was time that I eat my own advice, be patient with my own picky eater and seek out reminders that my child will not starve.
How do I get my child to eat more nutritious foods?
According to Ellyn Satter, diva pioneer in the area of child feeding, it is the parent’s responsibility to what, where and when of feeding, but it is the child’s responsibility to decided how much or even whether to eat. While it may be difficult to stand by and watch your child refuse to eat food you lovingly prepared, just do it. If you’re upset or anxious about your child not eating certain foods, he or she can (and will!) pick up on it.
Satter advises parents to offer familiar foods along with new foods. If your child refuses the food on a spoon, see if your child will eat it with his or her fingers. It’s messy but helps them build vital self-feeding skills. Believe me, nothing can be messier than my toddler feeding himself yogurt or oatmeal.
How can I be sure my child is getting enough of the right nutrients?
Offer your child a variety and mix of foods at every meal. Good choices include:
- Cooked veggies (cut into bite-size pieces), like sweet potato, butternut squash, zucchini, summer squash, broccoli
- Fruit (either soft or cooked), such as cooked apples, applesauce, soft pears, bananas, berries, mango
- Grains, like “o”-shaped cereals, brown rice, whole wheat crackers, breads, pastas and tortillas
- Protein-rich foods, such as yogurt, meat and poultry (in bite-sized pieces), cheese, beans, tofu, cottage cheese or fish (stick with full-fat dairy if your child’s under 2 years, low-fat if over 2.)
There are a lot of similar vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables, so relax if he or she loves blueberries but loathes broccoli. Depending on your child’s growth spurts, he or she may be full after only a few bites. Children have a wonderful gift of self-regulating (unlike most of us adults!). Of course, if you are concerned about your child’s growth, please consult your doctor or registered dietitian.
Bottom Line… Take a deep breath
Your little one’s appetite will wane and wax during toddler years. The bottom line is to get creative and take a deep breath.
BabyCenter (“Best Finger Foods for Toddlers) has some great ideas for creative toddler foods. And two fun sites with information on feeding toddlers and children are Raise Healthy Eaters andLittle Stomaks.
So, now… I’m going to try to enjoy my kiddo’s eating patterns and not get worked up about him dissing my favorite foods, veggies. I mean, seriously, I’m going to need that energy to clean my kitchen floor after he eats!
I’d love to hear from you… how do you get your kids to eat healthfully? Please share with us.