There is little doubt that trying to get a monkey to learn new tricks is easier than getting a stubborn little two year old to eat a plateful of veggies. However, there are ways to encourage and build healthy eating habits in toddlers and you can do it without losing your hair or your mind.
To begin with, accept the fact that toddlers are unique individuals with minds of their own. Therefore, if broccoli is not what they want, you wouldn’t be able to get them to open those tightly clamped lips. However, you can get them to eat it by exercising a little ingenuity and a dash of imagination. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Use Nutritious Favorite Foods
Every toddler would have a few favorites which would often be somewhat healthy. So, try and give the offending vegetable or fruit along with that favorite. For instance, if bread is the food of the day and banana is not, then try making banana spread and putting it on bread slices. You could do the same with any vegetable, after boiling and pureeing it.
Make Meals Interesting and Healthy
Toddlers enjoy meals that offer something to look forward to. Sometimes, simply dressing up the food would do the trick. So, you could make sweet potato smilies, or clown-faced sandwiches, submarine fish fingers, cutlets in various shapes and so on. That would give them an element of fun along with good nutrition, encouraging them to eat well.
Juices and Soups
Toddlers who don’t enjoy eating fruits would normally drink those in the form of juices and smoothies. So, experiment with a single fruit to begin with and then start mixing them up. The same is true for vegetables and soups. If your toddler is game with food floating in his soup, put in small pasta shapes and have him fish them out with his spoon. Make it interesting and appealing to his tiny but demanding tastes.
Use Variety for Nutrition
Toddlers tend to get bored with the same type of food. So, vary the form and type of dish. Giving them carrot sticks once, carrot cake the next time is bound to keep the element of interest alive and give them additional nutrition as well. You could even use different types of breads and cereals to provide them with both nutrition and variety.
Experiment With Food Temperature
Usually, toddlers who don’t enjoy a food when it is served warm, may take to it when served cold or vice-versa. It may not appeal to or agree with more grown-up tastes, but then, in the toddler world, it is a whole different ball game. So, if vegetable soup is not liked hot, chill it. Try the same with cereals and even, casseroles and other main dishes. Chances are they’d be more appreciated at temperatures different than what they are originally served at.
Make Meals Fun and Pleasant
Mealtimes should always be enjoyable experiences. Threatening, yelling and bribing don’t make for healthy eating experiences. So, make dining a delightful time with smiles, laughter and conversation. Toddlers, like adults, enjoy good company. And if your toddler is extremely social, get a friend, who eats well, over for dinner. It may be extra work, but chances are your toddler may start eating well, just looking at his friend eat.
The book What To Expect The Toddler Years by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi Murkoff and Sandee Hathaway [Workman, 1996] is extremely helpful and loaded with tips and tricks to get demanding and picky toddlers to eat healthy.
Fussy toddlers and odd eating habits are like most things, a part of growing up. While it is important that they get the best nutrition possible, they should also, enjoy that meal. So, do use these steps to encourage healthy eating habits but also, remember that to let toddlers enjoy food and the experience of eating is most important.