Almost all toddlers could be described as picky eaters. New foods often have disturbing tastes. If the child is used to breastmilk, formula, or sweet-tasting foods, it can be quite a transition to eat foods that awaken the other tastes. Alert! Alert! Strange taste in mouth!
Toddlers are also new to making decisions and experimenting with control. One thing toddlers can control is what goes in their body. Food is often the playing field where they get to practice decisions and control.
Parents can help their children by providing healthy choices. Sugar (read labels – there are 50 names for sugar) and food additives (dyes, preservatives, chemicals, GMO foods, etc.) can negatively affect children’s behavior, making them more susceptible to tantrums and big emotional releases. Even 100% fruit juice can be problematic because it lacks the fiber to slow down the fruit sugar absorption. In addition, the negative nutritional value of lots of “foods” out there can impact the child’s ability to make good decisions at the next meal.
While choice is important, be careful not to overwhelm. Have a few favorite foods each meal and add in one or two new ones. Tastes will change and don’t be alarmed if a food is a favorite one day and not another. Also, keep the portions small - a tablespoon or two, especially of a new food.
Here are some ideas to make meal-time and the introduction of new foods easier:
- Variety Snack Pack. Use an ice cube tray (if you can find one!) and place small bites of a variety of foods within reach.
- Rather drink than eat? Mix it up in a smoothie. Milk (dairy or non), fruit, and some good supplements (wheat germ, honey, peanut butter, egg powder, spirulina, flax oil . . .). When it’s green, that’s awesome. It’s a Monster Drink!!
- Don’t make a big deal. If they do or don't eat a nutritious food, try not to react. Put it on the table and model nutritious eating yourself. Try a new food so the child can see you enjoying what you're asking them to eat.
- Have family meals together. Set your toddler's place at the family table — it's good for kids of this age to see their parents and siblings eating together and eating healthy foods. Kids eat a more nutritious diet, with more fruits and vegetables, when they regularly have family meals.
- Avoid milk and juice right before a meal. This can diminish their appetite and decrease their willingness to try a new food being offered.
- Meals and snacks. While it is common for toddlers to snack throughout the day, it’s not advisable to let them eat on demand all day long. Structured meals and snack times are important to help them learn what it’s like to be hungry or full. Kids can manage their hunger when they come to expect that food will be available during certain times of the day. If a child chooses not to eat anything at all, simply offer food again at the next meal or snack time.
- Junk Food. Even if your child likes candy or chips, don't feel like you must give in. Kids can't run to the store to buy them, so don't keep them in the house. If your child wants candy, simply say, “We don’t have any.”
If you are looking for alternatives to traditional sugar-filled snack foods and junk food, the internet is filled with websites of great ideas. Try replacing salty, greasy chips with pretzels or baked tortilla chips. My son liked melon cubes with yogurt dip or red pepper and zucchini strips with hummus. Instead of dishing up ice cream every night, I offered him fruit-juice sweetened sorbet. Also, we put frozen fruit through an attachment on the juicer which turned it into long thin ribbons like snakes and he loved it. Wonderfully, naturally sweet.
It might be hard to imagine that your child’s tastes will change. These small people are dynamic and resilient. With your help, their food preferences and palette will grow.
Annie Keeling of Grass Valley teaches parenting classes at The Nest. Connect with Keeling at email@example.com or 530-210-1100. The next Start Small Parenting Class, for parents with children under the age of 5, starts on Feb 18. Register at http://raspyni.populr.me/start-small-parenting