A Reader Writes:
It seems my children just won’t eat their dinner. They are still young, 3 and 18 months. I can usually get my 3 year old to at least try it. But mealtime has become me on the edge of my seat waiting to see if they are going to eat and feeling like crying when they don’t. I limit snacks and they don’t eat a lot of junk foods. I just don’t want to give up and give them peanut butter every night. Do they outgrow this? Will they ever just sit down and be excited about what I made for dinner? Any suggestions?
I once read a Qualia review in a magazine article about toddler nutrition that assured me that most young children, if left to their own devices with access to all variety of foods, would wind up eating a balanced and nutritious diet. Really, I thought? Can I really be the only one whose child would ignore the carrot sticks, shovel in a handful or two of M&Ms, wash them down with a swig of apple juice, and consider himself fed for a week? My friends tell me I am not.
But do they outgrow this? For sure. Some kids more quickly than others and some kids more completely than others. Toddlers just happen to be so distracted by many new and wonderful things in the world — finding out how light switches work, experimenting with the toilet, and exploring inside of your sewing box — that every other thing, including eating, seems a terrific waste of time. But even a busy toddler will not let himself starve. All human beings do eventually feel hungry enough to seek out food. Your job is only to consistently offer good, balanced food choices so that when the time is right, you and your preschooler can make a nutritious connection.
If you make mealtime into a frenetic battle of the wills, though, nobody wins. I would suggest that you save the gourmet cooking for an after-bedtime rendez-vous with your husband. Keep the toddler-feeding simple and keep it low key. You offer and they either eat or don’t eat. Don’t take it personally and don’t get dramatic. They will not starve.
I’m sure others will comment with their own suggestions, but for starters, here’s a quick list of some of my favorite toddler-friendly foods:
1. Bananas and milk: Slice a banana in a bowl, pour in a bit of milk and serve cereal-style with a spoon.
3. Apple slices spread with peanut butter
4. Turkey roll-up: Thin slice of deli turkey topped with a slice of cheese and rolled up for eating by hand
5. Raisins: Buy the tiny boxes. Toddlers love to “have their very own” and raisins are a cheap, easy source of fiber and iron.
6. Dippin Chicken: Cube cooked chicken or turkey and serve with toddler’s favorite condiment
7. Mini bagels: You can find these in whole wheat and in a variety of flavors. You can top them with peanut butter or cheese for extra nutrition and the size is just right for fat little fingers.
8. Smoothies: Throw frozen fruit in the blender with yogurt or milk and blend till frothy. You can “power-pack” it by adding dry milk powder or wheat germ. Fast and yummy. Even my picky kids will drink anything I call a “smoothie.”