This is a guest post
It’s hard enough to come home from a busy day and whip up dinner, but now you have a toddler’s palate to consider. Needless to say, they’re picky, and it’s hard to get them to eat a diet as healthy and varied as the doctor orders.
Fortunately, you and your little one don’t have to be at odds every time you sit down for a meal. These are six ways to encourage healthy eating so you’re both satisfied with what’s in your toddler’s tummy.
1. Enlist Their Help
You might think your toddler’s help wouldn’t go too far in the kitchen — they’d likely slow the operation down, rather than speed it up. But just a little bit of ownership over their meals will make a big difference in what your little ones are willing to eat. In other words, it might be worth the extra time spent supervising or cleaning up after them.
Your kids can help you with more than just food prep, too. Ask for their input in your weekly menus and bring them along to the grocery store. Give them choices of snacks, so they’ll get excited about eating the healthy option they picked from the store’s shelves.
2. Give It Multiple Tries
Think back on your diet as a kid: Did you love the same stuff you love now? Chances are, it took you a while to warm up to the vegetables, fruit and proteins you eat nowadays. You need to give your children a chance to do the same.
In fact, it tends to take between five and 10 tries before a child will eat a new food, rather than reject it. This doesn’t mean you should attempt to feed them a spoonful of avocado 10 times in one meal, but that you should have them try it on a handful of occasions, so they can have an opportunity to really taste it — and really like it.
3. Schedule Meals Properly
As a general rule of thumb, your toddler should be noshing every three or four hours. That means they’ll need three meals and two snacks to get them through the day, plus plenty of fluids to keep them hydrated.
Now, what happens if you don’t follow this schedule and end up somewhere away from home without a snack on hand? If you answered, “I’ll appease my cranky baby with an unhealthy snack,” you’ve answered correctly! Turn it around by bringing along your own healthy nibbles, like raisins, yogurt, carrots, string cheese… anything that’ll get your kiddo through errands and onto the next meal.
4. Serve Everyone the Same Thing
Some nights you just want to give into your toddler’s demands and serve them chicken nuggets while you eat grilled chicken over salad. However, transforming yourself into a personal chef isn’t going to solve your problems. Instead, it’ll reinforce the notion that your food doesn’t taste good, so the kids get something special to eat.
Try whipping up a family-style meal where your kids can pick out what they want from the selection. They may not have as varied a plate as you do, but at least you know they’re getting some nutritional value from their meal. Make sure you’re filling up with veggies and other healthy sides: Kids will mimic what you eat, so be a model you want them to mirror.
You might also try serving a meal every diner can customize. For example, if you whip up bowls of rice and beans, you can lay out a spread of healthy toppings like tomatoes, onions, Greek yogurt, lettuce, olives, etc., so everyone can prepare and eat their own version. The same goes for dinnertime wraps, personal pizzas with veggies on top, omelets, tacos… the possibilities are endless.
5. Make Some Taste-Enhancing Concessions
In a perfect world, your toddler would chow down on carrot sticks and slices of cucumber without question. Unfortunately, that is not the world we live in, and little ones tend to reject most veggies — especially those without a bit of flavor.
So, you might have to make a slight compromise to get your child to eat a healthy snack or side, and that’s fine. Giving them a bowl of organic ranch dressing in which to dip their veggies could make all the difference. A small sprinkle of sugar over their fruit could give it just the sweetness they need to eat it. Sure, this isn’t the healthiest iteration of a fruit- or veggie-based snack, but it’s better than nothing — and easy to wean them off as they grow and mature.
6. Don’t Be Too Strict
You have the best intentions for your family, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you don’t want your health concerns to get in the way of your kids being kids, either. They just have to know that, when you treat them to a lunch at McDonald’s or an ice cream cone, it’s a special treat. Chances are, they’ll realize they must earn these types of outings by eating well the rest of the time.
And, on days when you want to keep things healthy, but a fussy eater won’t have it, you can still find a middle ground. Try serving your kid a fun snack made of good-for-you ingredients, but shaped like a toddler’s favorite things. They pack all the nutritional punch a growing body needs, but they’re disguised as special treats. We promise your kids will love to nosh on something like a string cheese octopus or an apple-and-grape car.
7. Eat It Up
Trying to get your toddler to eat well doesn’t have to be an unpleasant parenting experience. Instead, try the above methods, and you just might find your little one has a more refined palate than either of you realized. Or, they just might need you to chop up their fruits and veggies into a new, fun shape that makes them want to chow down. Either way, you’ll have found a pain-free path to healthy eating for the whole family — as a mom, we know that feels pretty darn good.
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, and healthy living blogger with a fierce love for peanut butter and naps. She practices yoga regularly even though her husband doesn’t think it counts as exercise. Find more from her at her blog, Mindfulness Mama, or follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.