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Family Nutrition: The Tumultuous Toddler

I’ve got two, how about you?  Ah, I love them with all my heart but at the same time they challenge me and have taught me what the word patience truly means.  For those of you who know me, I have a 3 ½ year old boy and a 2 year old girl.  You can imagine what it is like being a dietitian and a parent.  When my children were infants I was constantly calculating their nutrition to insure they were getting enough nutrients.  I remember being so worried my first was malnourished when looking back he actually looked like Jabba the Hut.  Why could I not have just assumed he was getting what he needed from my visual assessment?  Now that my children are older, I’m constantly thinking about appropriate habits and making sure my husband and I are setting good examples to prevent any ‘issues’ in the future. I am especially obsessed with this with my daughter as eating disorders are on the rise.

My biggest nutritional concern at this point is their lack of ‘risk taking’ when it comes to trying something new. I mean come on people, how many times can you eat macaroni and cheese, grilled cheese, chicken nuggets or meatloaf?   And why, if you are both so picky will you eat salad of all things?  These children continue to stump me as I stress out about adding new foods and making sure a healthy variety is consumed.  From my discussions with most parents, it turns out I’m not alone so I thought I’d blog some ideas.

I looked up some studies to see if there’s any research  or anything that could guide me in preventing the picky eater.  The Bristol University of England conducted a study that showed if you wait to provide your infants ‘lumpy’ foods until after 10 months, your children are most likely to develop a fussiness as early as 15 months, where as if parents introduced ‘lumpy’ foods between 6-9 months, fussiness was delayed or even prevented.  I’m assuming lumpy foods are those that have texture or are soft such as the mashed potatoes, cooked peas, meatloaf, or perhaps even shredded pork or chicken.  Of course this all depends on the child’s ability to mush and swallow but frankly, it’s too late for me to do anything about this.

Next study, I thought was interesting was conducted in Australia. This showed that on average you have to offer a food ten times to a toddler before they will accept it.  Really?  Well I’m glad to see that most other parents tend to give up after the third time and try something new also. I will get working on this though now that I have an absolute number to follow.

When it comes right down to it there’s no research out there that tells us how to add meat or veggies and guarantee acceptance.  I do think that the ideas that work the best and seem to get the most positive results are the same things we read or hear all the time. 

1)  Try getting your child involved in making the meal with you. 
2)  Try getting your child involved in picking the items, either they can put food items on your grocery list or go and purchase with you.
3) Be an example for your kids by letting them see you try new foods. 

Frankly, I did not think any of this would work, but then I tried it.....

My 3 ½ year old and I went to the grocery store to buy ingredients for pizza. Yes pizza, he hated it.  He helped me pick out the ingredients; I even got him to choose ham to put on it with some veggies. We cooked it together, and voila he now eats pizza.  I can’t get my children to eat meat so the last time we cooked chicken I got special ‘swords’ or skewers. The kids put their chicken on the swords and after we cooked them we served them on the swords with a ranch dipping sauce. They ate it.  We even grew a garden and they are eating onions, peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  They picked the seeds and water the garden every day.  Never mind that my garden hasn't sprouted one actually veggie yet, but I tell them I picked it while they were at school, just a little fib. 

When we make meatloaf, each child cracks an egg and dumps their own vegetable in before I mix it up to cook.  As for lunch meat, we make our own lunchables here in the Goldsmith family on a special plate with really cool toothpicks.  Do your kids like pasta?  Mine do.  I now let them pick the pasta and veggies they want and we mix in the chicken and create a little stir fry.  Add a nice little dipping sauce on a sushi soy side plate and you got it, they eat it.

Mind you, this hasn’t been over night.  It’s been a long time coming but I’d highly recommend getting your toddler involved.  Remember, at the end of the day a child will eventually eat once they are hungry enough.  Keep trying (ten times each) and try to be adventurous and make it a fun experience for your toddler.  In the meantime, what do you all do to get your picky toddler to eat?  Good luck and be well.


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