A Chef Mom on Feeding Toddlers: The Struggle Is Real

twin toddlers eating

When my husband and I set out to raise our twin toddler sons to be willing, if not eager, eaters, we really thought we had a shot. I’m a trained cook and personal chef with an adventurous palate. My husband, though maybe not as daring, has only two things on his list of will-not-eat-under-any-circumstances -- raw shellfish and gummy candy (including Swedish fish. Yeah, he’s weird).

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I really thought our plan to avoid picky eating was simple enough: feed our sons varied foods from an early age to prime their taste buds for an array of flavors. Refrain from as many processed foods as my time and sanity would allow, figuring they can’t fixate on what they rarely or never have. And don’t make a big deal out of eating vegetables and other healthy foods -- because toddlers are essentially teenagers-in-training, rebelling against anything you clearly want them to do.

Deciding to focus our efforts on our sons’ eating was mostly born out of curiosity. Sure, there are plenty of foods my husband and I can take or leave, but the sort of picky eating I see in my profession (among both kids and adults) got me wondering how this sort of vehement food avoidance starts. Is picky eating a genetically predisposed personality trait? Or is it a learned behavior that parents inadvertently fuel?

We chose to believe the latter. Of course, we knew picky eating during the toddler years is normal -- some claim it’s evolutionary, a holdover from caveman times when mom was too preoccupied with basic survival to watch every morsel baby put in his mouth. Others think it’s a form of self-expression, a way for toddlers, whose lives are controlled by their parents, to make a decision for themselves.

More from CafeMom: 10 Tips to Ensure Picky Eaters Get the Nutrition They Need

But with food so central to my life and work, I wanted to do what I could to encourage my sons to share my enthusiasm -- or at least not quash it with singular demand for chicken fingers.

And while I know that toddlers can be picky, my bigger goal is to have them grow into 5-, 8-, and 12-year-olds who are willing to try new foods. Though I’m a chef by trade, I’m not interested in being a short order cook in my own home, making separate dinners to accommodate ever-changing-but-always-picky tastes.

The boys started solids at six months and for almost a year I stunned (even appalled) others with their meals. Apart from honey and raw dairy, held only for safety concerns, nothing was off limits. Leafy greens, eggplant, asparagus, salmon, pork, lamb, millet, quinoa, polenta. Herbs, spices, caramelized onion, roasted garlic. They ate it all. My theory that introducing a variety of foods as soon as possible could stave off the dreaded picky palate was seemingly affirmed. I knew better than to be smug, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think my plan was working.

The revolt came without warning, one Friday morning around the 16-month mark. Some people had cautioned me that the feeding bonanza would end and I didn’t discount it, but I’d hoped to make it to their second birthday before mutiny.

More from CafeMom: 6 Mistakes Moms Make With Picky Eaters

At least it wasn’t a united effort. Only one son decided to send his usually well-received yogurt and roasted pears across the table. Confused, I offered it again. This time, he wrestled away the spoon and tossed it on the floor.

War declared.

It’s been months and the battle continues. New foods are readily dismissed with the back of my son’s chubby little hand. Dinner gamely eaten one night prompts frenzied head shaking the very next. I almost admire the way he uses his tongue like a change sorter, spitting out the vegetables in his pasta primavera, leaving behind the macaroni to chew and swallow. Even fruit isn’t a sure thing. He has a passionate love/hate relationship with oranges. Green grapes are smashed with clenched fists, but red grapes are tolerated (sometimes). Bananas are the only reliable winner. I buy so many, I’m pretty sure the supermarket checkout clerks think I’m tending an illegal monkey colony at home.

Meanwhile, his brother remains a portrait of happy, avid eating. No longer guaranteed to like everything, he still tries new food. He’s got a sweet tooth but will eat most vegetables. Despite being the smaller twin, he has an appetite that is as hearty as it is diverse. And he loves to score bites of food off our plates, even if it’s something he just rejected in his high chair. If he were our only child, I would think we were killing it.

More from CafeMom: My Kids' Picky Eating Isn't a Battle I'm Willing to Fight

Exposed to the same parenting style at the same time, twins can so bluntly demonstrate how little our plans sometimes matter. My kids have certainly responded in such dramatically different ways that I’m left questioning how much it's really up to me.

But I don’t think this means we shouldn’t do our best to set good examples and promote certain behaviors. No matter how futile some of our efforts might seem.

So for now, I will continue with my plan even though it may ultimately be in vain. And maybe stock up on chicken fingers. And of course, bananas.

 

Stephanie Kivich is a personal chef and culinary instructor. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and her twin toddler sons.


Image via iStock.com/H-Gall

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