Often times children are great eaters as an infant and became picky as a toddler. A child's independence emerges during the toddler years, and food preference is no exception. Following these age-appropriate tips will prevent stressful food fights and cultivate a peaceful, functional mealtime environment. Here are a few stellar ways to win the food war, and maybe even convert your children into foot soldiers for the cause.
Monkey see, monkey do. The number one thing you can do to get your children to eat what you want them to eat is to eat it yourself. Toddlers are naturals at mimicking the things that you do, so be sure to eat healthy yourself. Indulge in strawberries and other fruits yourself and show your kids just how much they can enjoy eating healthy foods too.
Set specific times for snacks. If a child eats a snack too close to a meal, you will lose before you've even begun. Space snacks at least one and a half hours from any meal.
Variety is key, so be sure to rotate and introduce new foods. It can take a child 10-15 exposures of a new food to take that first morsel, so don't give up! Do not let them hear you say, "She doesn't like/eat broccoli," instead say, "She's still trying it out," or, "It's not her thing today but maybe another day."
Children tend to fall short in calcium, (dairy, broccoli spinach) magnesium, (dark leafy greens, nuts/seeds, avocado) potassium, (sweet potatoes, tomato sauce, beans) fiber, (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) and Vitamin E (tofu, spinach, nuts/seeds). Here are some tips on how to sneak in extra nutrition:
- Make fruit smoothies with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt.
- Bake homemade fries, veggie chips (kale, beets, sweet potatoes) in the oven with sea salt and olive oil.
- Purée butternut squash into macaroni and cheese.
- Put black beans in brownies and mix cauliflower into mashed potatoes and pizza crust.
- Change white flour, pasta, and bread products to whole wheat.
- Make a protein breakfast ahead of time - kids can do "egg muffins" with cut up veggies, shredded cheese and eggs; let the kids put the ingredients into little cupcake cups.
- Purée or finely chop veggies (like spinach) into meatballs.
- Apple slices and trail mix (nuts, seeds, and raisins - skip the M&M version).
- Keep cut up veggies (carrots, cucumbers, peppers) in the fridge for an easily accessible snack.
Get your kiddos involved in menu planning and make it fun! You're competing with Elsa's fruit snacks for goodness sakes. While food shopping play games; give each child a color and have them choose a fruit and vegetable. Play "I Spy" and let them control which fruit and veggies make it into the cart each week.
What's in a name? A lot. Words can dramatically change a child's perception. Come up with a funny name for a simple food; for instance, eat "broccoli trees" rather than plain "broccoli." Remember the old favorite - ants on a log? It was popular for a reason!
Get your kids involved in the cooking. In some preschool classrooms children learn to pour, mix, and cut their own food. Why shouldn't they? Just be sure to supervise. Kids can learn a lot and have a lot of fun by cooking with you.
Chew and swallow. Cutting foods into age-appropriate bite-size pieces is a must. Offer your kids bites about the square width of their thumbnails. Change the shape of food to keep it exciting! Try squares, sticks, or circles. And then let them have time to chew.
Getting your picky toddlers to eat delicious and healthy foods is all about good parenting. Show them how much they can enjoy certain foods by eating healthy yourself, and get them involved in meal planning and cooking. Children want to be just like their parents, so being healthy yourself is key to raising happy and healthy children.
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