Despite eating everything as a toddler, many children can and do turn into “carb and white-food only” monsters, driving their parents crazy around mealtimes. Parents are not just frustrated but concerned and often ask if their children can really be meeting their nutritional needs with multiple meals of french fries, macaroni and cheese and other pastas.
I'm guessing that so many of you reading this, the parents of many 2-7 year olds, are going through this exact same thing, or you have. And while this may not help to hear/read, it’s VERY common. So, first, please don’t stress over this. Why does this happen?
Children like to exert their independence in a few key places. Food is one of them. Young children (or older Toddlers) now have an understanding that they can make choices that you, the parent (much to your dismay), are unable to control. This is one way that these little guys and gals are showing you, “Hey, I’m my own person and I’m going to make my own choices about what I like.”
Believe it or not, this show of newfound independence is developmentally, a very good thing so try to keep that in mind when you’re feeling frustrated. Children in this age group also have a very difficult time with change and anything that is “new”. In fact, they so clearly despise change, that children will often repeat the same meal 100+ times before getting bored. While this is all very developmentally appropriate, as a fellow mom, I can completely relate to and understand your frustrations. Here are a few things to try:
Put out all meal components at one time, as opposed to staggering in “courses”. Include 1 new food item with 2-3 older/well-liked items.
Give children a “buffet-style” dinner. Children love choices. In an ice-cube tray, place 8-10 small amounts of different food items like peas, avocado, shredded cheese, ground turkey in a delicious red sauce, etc. You can also include some sauces for dipping, like BBQ or Ranch.
Turn mealtime into an activity. I’m not saying that you should get away from sitting at the table and eating together but from a cognitive perspective, our brains are wired to better concentrate on the task-at-hand (and in this case, that’s eating) when we’re actively engaged in something that we enjoy. So, create a poem out of every food item or play high-low-new while dining together. Anything that engages them cognitively.
Keep putting it in front of them. If your child constantly says “no”, that’s okay. Continue putting different foods in front of them. Studies suggest that a child needs to see something multiple times and try it even more, before “liking” it. Do small amounts so you won’t feel there is a lot of waste if it goes uneaten multiple times…and it will.
One word: Smoothies!! Whenever I’m feeling like my children are lacking in the fruit and vegetables department, I make them smoothies which they love and are easy to do. Plus, you can throw in protein, flax seeds, and many other nutritional supplements that are great for their growing minds and bodies. You can also put them into Popsicle molds and make easy and healthy popsicles…sure to be a hit!
Don’t offer a back-up meal solution! A lot of families practice this and while it does ensure your child doesn’t go to bed hungry, it also teaches that there is always a back up and therefore, he doesn’t need to try the “new” foods. It’s actually okay if your child goes to bed hungry once in awhile. This will probably entice him to “try” next time.
Remember, you are the parent and you set the guidelines in your home. Children will often say that they don’t like something or don’t want to try it. The best suggestion I can offer you is to take a deep breath and don’t argue. Mealtimes should never turn into a battleground. Eventually, your child will try it. I promise.