Stop Thinking Your Toddler Needs Special Food

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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

picky eaters, nutrition, toddler meal, toddler health, solid food

38 Comments

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Ursul... Ursula187

I'm very fortunate in that my daughter looooooves food.  All food.  Her favorite things to eat these days are grilled chicken and lima beans.  She still enjoys peanut butter sandwiches (so do I), but really, she gets that about as often as any other food - once in a while.  But again, I consider myself lucky.  I know that some parents really struggle to get their kids to be as adventurous with food as she is.  

Cafe PJB Cafe PJB

Totally agree!  My son loves nearly everything, in fact he has thrown a grilled cheese sandwich on the floor so he could have more split pea soup.  Chicken Tikka Masala for dinner tonight, which is one of his favorites.  But everyone has their tastes - he doesn't like blackberries or beets.  To each their own, but let them make the decision rather than making it for them!

Katt Aguilo

I have this complaint about restaurants!  Their kids' menu is just junk, I don't normally feed my kids mac and cheese or chicken strips or corn dogs (espcially for dinner).  AND, if i wanted to it would be easy.  When we go out to eat it is a special occassion, I want him to eat something special, something we don't normally eat at home.


I'd LOVE for restaurants to offer a selection of normal menu foods in smaller proportions for kids.  How hard would that be?  please tell me?  Broccoli Beef would be a BIG hit!  Steak with Veggies, Stirfry, Grilled Chicken and ???  these would ALL be big hits.  Frustrates me that i'd have to pay for a full adult sized meal if i want my kid to have his own plate.

LoriA... LoriAnn87

My son loves to eat and he pretty much will eat anything we put in front of him or will at least try but he doesn't eat seafood expect tuna fish. He loves to eat nuggets, mac and cheese, pasta, butter noddles, pizza, peanut better and jelly, bannana, lima beans, fruti loops, steak, chicken, pork chops, hot dogs, hamburgers and grilled cheese and he will also eat more food that i just can't remeber.

buffa... buffalove23

My best solution for when eating out is to just share. Most of the time the portions are way too big to begin with.(plus for me, it'd help me eat a little less and more healthy if it was what my kid was eating)

jus1jess jus1jess

Thank you! I agree about the restaurant kid menus. There's no real food on them! You'd think that people would want their kids eating healthier than they do.

LoriA... LoriAnn87

I have been out to eat at a few places that offer healty food for kids.

Maria Packard Croft

love this! I made my own baby food from what we were eating, then just started giving cut-up pieces of whatever was on our plates. This is why my kids will eat mung beans, red quinoa, grouper, calamari and at least try everything on their plate. We try to order adult meals and split them, but sharing (with a parent) is also a great idea.

K Maeve Powlick

I definitely agree with the basic premise of this article, and I sooooo agree about the kids menus, but my daughter is pretty damn picky and there is nothing I can do about it. I still offer her "normal" food, but at least half the time she just won't eat it. My solution has been to always offer veggies first and always include something I know she likes in the meal. The last. Thing I want is to fight about food all the time!

sweet... sweettigeress

I agree. I gave my dd any and everything when she was a baby. She does have her likes and dislikes, but she isn't hesitant to try new things. Her fave meals are tortellini and chicken and dumplings. She also loves soup, chili, and pasta. 


Now if I can just get this baby to eat. lol. I make homemade baby food and so far she wants nothing to do with it. 

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