What's the first thing you think of when you're considering feeding a toddler? Macaroni and cheese? Pizza? Buttered noodles? Peanut butter and jelly? French fries?

I think most of us are guilty of thinking that kids need simple meals. We have preconceived ideas about what toddlers will and won't eat, and as they graduate from baby food to toddler food, sometimes we limit their diets. The good news is that we don't have to.

Jarred baby food often has nutrients cooked out and sodium and sugars added in, so whether you're going the baby food route or "baby led solids" (my preference), good diet and relationship with food start in the first year. But when children get into the second, the toddler years, that's when parents really start complaining about the limited palate. What to do?

The easiest thing to do is to stop thinking "Kid food." There is no such thing! There is just healthy and unhealthy food. Parents totally shape what their children like, by having preconceived notions about what a child will and won't eat. If you constantly offer certain things and treat them no differently than anything else, your child won't think of them any differently. (In most cases.) Whether it's pizza or teriyaki chicken with pineapple slices, it's about your attitude, not theirs. We, as parents, shape our kids' ideas about what is "acceptable" food and what isn't. If you constantly pressure them to eat fruits and vegetables, they will sense it, and if you constantly "give in" and put PB&J down when they won't eat the green beans, they learn from that as well.

Jenny from Nourished Kitchen talks about common complaints (emphasis hers):

Eating is more than fueling our bodies with nutrients or garbage: it’s a sensory experience, or at least, it should be. There’s life beyond macaroni and cheese, french fries, and peanut butter sandwiches. I hear a lot of complaints about picky kids: “That may be all fine and well for you, Jenny, but my kid would never eat sushi / fennel / kefir / what have you.” And while it’s inevitably true that some kids are just picky and that no one can appreciate every flavor ... we learn to love the foods that we’re exposed to. If children are only ever offered chicken fingers and buttered noodles, they’ll only develop a taste for chicken fingers and buttered noodles.

If you have some food issues, and no medical/sensory reasons why they should exist, think about your attitude when it comes to presentation. Do you ever say, "Just take five more bites of that pizza before you leave the table" or is that reserved only for the peas? Do you say, "It's coconut baked shrimp night!" with the same enthusiasm you'd announce "taco night"? If the answer is no, then you may want to consider altering your approach to presentation. If you start having the same expectations whether you present your kids with pasta with red sauce or pasta with pesto, they may start responding in a likewise manner.

Do you think your mindset contributes to any toddler food battles you may have?

 

Image via ToddlerBrain82/CafeMom