Running from the Law: One Year and Beyond - Getting Your Toddler To Eat

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

One Year and Beyond - Getting Your Toddler To Eat

Well hello!  I just want to apologize for missing the deadline for this post last week -- sometimes life gets in the way and when that happens, this little corner of the internet gets a bit neglected. Nothing major going on here (don't worry, no baby yet!), just a lot of work to be done in the office and around the house, a fun dinner party for blogger mamas to host, a toddler that forgot how to sleep for 4 nights and a trip to the Farm (where internet ceases to exist for me).  So, we've been busy!
Anyway, I didn't want to skip out completely on this week's post in the "One Year and Beyond" toddler series because this is a subject I love talking about - How to Get Your Toddler to Eat. Isn't this a hot topic on the minds of all mamas? Again, if I knew the answer to this one I'd be a billionaire (that's foreshadowing...I don't have the answers).  But as usual, that's not going to prevent me from jabbering on and on about the topic.  Luckily, Mac has always been a pretty good eater and had a big appetite.  Of course that doesn't mean he cleans his plate every night or always eats what we want him to, but for the most part, I'm pretty happy with his eating habits.  He's usually willing to give things a "try" and that's important to me.  If he doesn't like something, he spits it out and has something else.  We'll try it again another day.  So I'm here today to go through some of the things that we've tried with Mac that work for us.  All kids are different, but I hope you might be able to use a few of these tips as you go down this path with your picky little eater.  

It Will Balance Out
As he gets a bit older and more independent, he's definitely gotten pickier about what he will eat and how much.  Some days he's a great eater and eats all his food and asks for seconds.  Some days he barely eats anything.  I constantly have to remind myself that he will not let himself starve and will eat when he's hungry.  And without fail, after a meal (or two or three) where he doesn't eat much, he'll have a meal (or two or three) where he can't get enough.  It's give and take.  Some days he'll have a huge breakfast and then barely pick at his lunch.  If he has a big dinner, then breakfast the next day may not be as big as normal.  This is a bit tricky for us working moms that aren't around for every meal, because it's hard to know how much he's eating and when.  Our nanny is great at giving me updates on how his meals go and her predictions for how he'll do at the next meal, based on what he ate that day.  Eventually it all balances out. 
Let Him Do It
As you've read this blog over and over, we completely skipped the purees/cereal/baby food and started Mac with solids at 6 months (Baby Led Weaning).  So right from the start, he fed himself. He chose what to eat and how much to eat.  I think this approach not only helped significantly with his hand/eye coordination and fine motor skills, but made him a more adventurous eater, as he was likely to try everything on his tray.  Now that Mac's a toddler (a very independent toddler that insists on doing things "BY SELF"), it's important that we still let him feed himself and choose what he eats.  We do this by not force feeding him or putting food in his mouth.  He's much less willing to try something if I'm pushing it on him and trying to get him to take a bite.  If I just put it on his try and let him choose to try it, it goes over so much better.  Toddlers have very little control over anything they do, so this is one area where we can let him make the choices.  Also, letting him use utensils is a big deal.  He loves to use his spoon and feed himself yogurt, applesauce, pudding, cereal, oatmeal, etc.  Again, I think it gives him some control, which he loves.

Dip It!
We've noticed that over the last couple months, if Mac can "dip" his food into something, he's more likely to eat it.  If a food can be dipped, it is automatically so much more fun to eat.  We started with a basic ketchup...what is it about ketchup that toddlers love so much?  Now we've been adding other things to dip: veggies in ranch or hummus, pancakes in syrup, chicken in BBQ sauce or honey mustard, chips in salsa or guacamole, pita in hummus, fruit in applesauce or yogurt, meatballs in marinara.  You get the idea.  (More dipping ideas)  
Fewer Snacks During the Day
This is a tough one.  Some parents swear that if they didn't give their kids little snacks all day long here and there, they'd never eat.  And that may be true for some kids.  But I feel like with Mac, the fewer snacks he gets during the day, the more likely he is to eat his food during mealtimes.  Of course, he asks for snacks all day long and usually gets something small when we're not close to a mealtime (I'm a pushover and don't want my child to starve or have a meltdown).  I've learned that he usually asks for more snacks in certain situations: (1) when we're inside (closer to the kitchen where the snacks are); (2) when he sees the diaper bag (which usually contains snacks); (3) when other kids are snacking.  Otherwise, if he's outside playing (or digging for worms), there are way fewer snack requests, which gives him more opportunity to build up an appetite, which means he eats a bigger meal.  I thought it was interesting that in Bringing Up Bebe the author emphasized that French kids do not do the all-day snacking thing that American kids do.  They have one 4 o'clock snack a day and otherwise, they eat at mealtimes only.  I wish I was better about this because I really do think it could make a big difference in how much Mac eats at mealtimes.

Lots of Variety
When I make meals for Mac, unless I'm making something that I absolutely know he'll devour (pancakes and pasta), I always try to give him a large variety of foods on his tray.  That way he can try a couple options and choose what he wants to eat.  Again, it's all about letting him make the choices.  I'm a much happier mom if he eats three out of the six items I give him, as opposed to one of the three.  Don't worry, I'm not saying you have to give your toddler a six course meal or anything, but there are things in your fridge right now that could serve as an option (yogurt, couple different types of fruits or veggies, cheese, crackers, rice, and any leftovers).  Toddlers love options.
These next two tips probably go against all the "good eating" mommy rules out there, but sometimes they are necessary.  We've noticed that Mac will eat so much more and better when he's slightly distracted from his meal.  We sit down and eat together as a family, but we also turn on the TV and let him watch an episode of Daniel Tiger while he eats.  Maybe because he's SO busy and just never ever stops moving, but he can't seem to settle down for meals without something to keep his attention.  And there's something mesmerizing about that stupid show to toddlers - he watches, sings/talks along, laughs, knows all the characters, etc.  It's the only show he watches with any attention and it seems to calm him down long enough to allow him to sit through a meal.  Otherwise, he takes a few bites, throws his milk on the floor and declares himself "ALL DONE!" so he can get back down and back to playing.  Letting him watch a little bit of TV during dinnertime is the only way we buy ourselves enough time to eat our meals too, so it's a trade-off. I'm not saying that it's ideal (I've read studies that say this can lead to overeating because they're distracted and not paying attention to your body's cues that they're full and other studies that say this can cause children to under-eat because they're distracted and not listening to their body's cues that they're still hungry), but for now it works for us.  Believe me, I'd gladly turn Daniel off (FOREVER) if we could get through a meal without him.  Hasn't happened yet.
Disguise the Veggies
If your child absolutely refuses to eat any and all vegetables, there are other ways to make sure they get the nutrients.  I think two of the best ways are smoothies and cooking with purees.  I'm actually a fan of both, but rarely have time to do either.  On weekends, Mac and I will occasionally make a smoothie.  I pull out all the fruits and veggies and let him pick what to put in the smoothie and add it to the blender himself.  Again, he makes the choice and feels like he has some power in the situation.  There are millions of smoothie recipes out there that contain everything from kale to carrots that all taste great and are toddler-approved.  The other way to get more veggies in meals is by using vegetable purees.  This concept became really popular a few years ago when Jessica Seinfeld published her cookbook for kids and used veggie purees in everything from pasta sauce to chicken nuggets.  It's called "Deceptively Delicious" and actually that's exactly what it is...a deceptive trick to get veggies into your kid.  It works (and the food is actually really good), but by hiding the veggies, your child doesn't know/realize that they're eating veggies, which means that they're probably going to be less willing to try them in the future.  I love the idea, but I also realize it could cause additional pickiness problems.  So it's not ideal (what is?), but in certain situations with a very picky eater, I think it might help give mom more peace of mind that her child's getting proper nutrients.  And sometimes that's enough. 

So that's my two cents.  Again, I'm WAY late to the party on this post, but feel free to check out what these other mamas had to say on the topic and/or link up your post on toddler eating below.  There are only two more weeks of this series, so I'd love it if you'd consider joining us!  Topics are listed below.

From Here to EternityWords About Waverly
my delicious adventure Photobucket
My Delicious Adventure                  The Life Of Faith
Running From The LawThe Olive Tree

May 8:          Taming the temper tantrums
May 15:        Weaning from breastfeeding or from formula to cow’s milk 
May 22:        Dealing with "Mommy Guilt"
May 29:        When people share their opinions and how to lovingly handle it
June 5:         Traveling with your toddler
June 12:       How to get your toddler to eat their veggies…or their food at all
June 19:       How to make time to blog in the busyness of motherhood
June 26:       Bedtime battles (nap or bedtime)

Is your toddler a good eater? 
What's the best advice you have about toddler eating 


  1. Bless you for writing this! We struggle with dinner time the most. When you said that Mac will take a few bites, throw his milk on the floor, and say, "all done," I laughed out loud because the same thing happens to my house!

  2. Great tips and tricks. My philosophy is if they are hungry they will eat! Obviously, not overlooking an illness or a reason medically they are not eating.

  3. Do you know what I love about Mac the most? He is 100% all boy!! I just love his spirit and gumption. Great tips for sure. I wish I had known about some of these in M's earlier months when she first started solids. Oh well - live and learn! XO

  4. I so agree with variety and limiting snacks. From the looks of the pictures, he seems to be a pretty good eater! Most definitely a cute one!

    I try to feed Blaire "real" food as much as possible and limit the kid junk. (One of the pediatricians in our practice said he'd ban goldfish if he could.) Still, she can be a pretty picky eater. It's frustrating! I'd gotten into a habit of preparing her a separate meal than what we eat. Lately, I've just served her what we eat and acted as if I expect her to eat it. To my surprise, she's trying it! Sometimes it's just a bite and then she ends up with something else but it's opening her horizons. She's even surprised me and finished a few of the meals I've served her. I feel like I've made her pickier by assuming she won't eat something and feeding her things I know she likes in order to avoid a battle. Bad mom! I'm hoping I do better with this next one. ;)

  5. Elyse has declared herself "all done" multiple times. We typically tell her that "it's fine if she's done, but she needs to sit there until mommy & daddy are done." Thankfully this works for now. Elyse has a snack in the morning...we eat breakfast at like 7:30 and with lunch at 12-12:30 I don't feel so bad about a snack. And then she normally has a snack in the late afternoon after nap. This buys me some time before dinner so we can all eat as a family. This works so far.

    My pediatrician told us that as long as a toddler gets 1 good meal a day, to consider it a successful day. We've clung to that idea and it's so true! They WILL NOT STARVE!

    And why will my child not drink smoothies? I think this would be a great way for more nutrition but she WILL NOT eat them. I think it's a texture thing!

  6. Owen eats more in front of the TV too. I usually let him eat his lunch with a show of Mickey or Cailou, but for dinner we turn it off and all sit down together and he gets to have a toy or two at the table. I absolutely need to cut back on his snacking though. He loooooves snacks. He's not usually hungry for a meal if he'd been snacking.

  7. Great tips. I remember our pediatrician telling us to relax a little about Lia eating. To measure it in terms of how well she did this week overall and not focus so much each day. Still at 4 we look at this. Some days she cannot get enough no matter how much we try to keep up we can't and other days she eats like a bird!
    As long as she is staying hydrated and eating some I think its a success.

  8. We are just getting into the picky toddler stage. Lately my son takes two bites of dinner, then wants back down to play. Once he's out of the high chair, he'll cruise by for bites of food every few minutes. I'm pretty sure this is setting up a bad precedence, but I want him to eat. That seems to be the common theme of all toddler parent dilemmas - do you do things "right" or just focus on getting the job done?

    The Joni Journey

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  10. I'm convinced our boys are somehow related...
    There are days my child refuses to eat anything until dinner. Then he INHALES his food like it's going out of style.
    We'll try almost anything once if we can dip it in something.
    It's not at all uncommon for me to chase Marcus around the house while he plays, and I'm shoveling little bites of food into his mouth. If we didn't do that occasionally, I don't think he'd eat nearly as much.
    And veggies? I hide those any chance I get!

  11. Love your tips and the pic's of your little dude! :)
    And you're so right about having to remind yourself that he wont starve! I constantly have to do that one.
    xo, Stephanie

  12. These are great tips! I've tried almost everything and found that it still depends on the day which trick will work. We've let him eat in front of the tv and sometimes it helps but sometimes he just watches tv and ignores the food, especially if its breakfast. Sometimes I've found that if I put his food down, sit him in his chair, and walk away and he thinks he is by himself, he will eat almost everything. Like he doesn't want me to know he wants to eat or something. (Toddlers!) Other than that, I totally agree on variety. Tonight Mason had chicken nuggets, olives, tomato, yellow peppers, avocado and cheese on his plate. And he probably finished all but 3 pieces of chicken and some cheese. I think he likes being in control of choosing what he eats and when so I usually put like 4-6 options out too. Love that Mac is such a good eater!