The Joys of (Not) Feeding a Toddler
Parenting in the digital age is a double-edged sword. We are the most informed generation ever to raise children with instant access to the world’s information in the palm of our hands.
Every choice we make for our children can be researched and curated from the finest child development minds in the world and we can take inspiration from cultures across the world to aid in the growth of our child.
Nowhere is this plethora of information more evident than in childhood nutrition and this is where you start to see the flaws of information overload and the unfiltered nature of the internet when it comes to the wonderful world of feeding a toddler.
Don’t fight a losing battle
Young children, especially toddlers, are wonderful, inquisitive life forms – part hurricane, part butterfly they possess the capacity for seemingly unlimited love and kindness coupled with an intransigence and single-mindedness that is both terrifying and a little awe inspiring.
In fact, these latter qualities are so powerful, so effective at overpowering opponents that we’ve started to see politicians incorporate that exact behaviour.
Anyone who has tried to negotiate or seek compromise with a toddler will know exactly how futile it is – the next time you watch certain world leaders stick out their bottom lip, change the subject completely or simply refuse to answer, think back to that time you tried to convince your toddler that corn on the cob was in fact exactly the same as sweet corn and you’ll recognise that reaction.
Take all that advice with a pinch of salt
The next problem is that people who have never actually tried to feed a toddler have obviously written the vast majority of advice out there. I mean, I’ve told my son that a doctor from Oxford University has stated that broccoli is an incredible source of nutrients and essential in aiding his development but he still insists that broccoli is, in fact, yuck!
When I tell him that he has to hit his 5-a-day target for fruit and vegetables he shouts out “chips” which is his way of saying “Fake News”.
Coupled with this is the numerous blogs written by parents who I firmly believe are either being less than truthful or raising androids – I’m not sure if I can make it through another article where I’m expected to believe that the author’s children love nothing more than sitting down to a delicious meal of sea bass on a bed of raw vegetables and couscous when my child thinks that cauliflower has been sent here to anger him.
So with any possibility of negotiation removed, what are your options? Deception!
Yes, I’m fully aware that deceiving children is a horrendous concept but in the face of great adversity only guile will see you through.
Advice that actually works
It’s important to reevaluate your definition of success here – slow and steady wins the race – you may not be able to out negotiate them but you can outlast them!! A recent study by the UK’s NHS childhood development team suggests that to successfully introduce new foods it may need to be presented up to 15 times before your child accepts them.
Here’s the key, it only needs to be bite sized and it doesn’t matter if they don’t touch it the first 12 times – a no-pressure approach wins the race here.
From personal experience this actually works, after putting a tiny piece of sugar snap peas on my son’s plate once every couple of days it magically disappeared one day. After continuing to add a small piece each day it went every time to the point where he now asks for it! This from a child who hates green food!
It’s also been really helpful to sit with him while he is eating and let him see me consuming some of those foods that I know he won’t touch. Now if your toddler is anything like mine they will smell out a trick a mile away so keep it incredibly casual, don’t offer them any unless they ask and don’t reference the food you are eating – much like cats, toddlers undoing is often their curiosity and you’ll be amazed how much they mimic what they see from you!
Quick, achievable toddler eating hacks
These are the slow burners, the long game tactics. Don’t fret, if you desperately need to get some nutrition into your kids fast then there are some quick solutions that I have found incredibly helpful.
Pasta sauce – It’s quick, easy and fantastic for hiding all types of healthy extras without them becoming suspicious. I will either finely dice all types of vegetables, or blitz them into a sauce with canned chopped tomatoes in a food processor – it takes seconds and is then packed full of nutrients – serve with pasta (or as pizza base) with grated cheese and they never know.
Smoothies are a godsend for fussy toddlers, packed with fruit and vegetables, you can even freeze them and present them as an ice-cream treat – toddlers love treats!!!!
Grazing plates – or as my son calls them, robot plates. I put bite-size amounts of a mixture of foods here – a piece of hard cheese, a couple of grapes, melon, some mini-grissini, salami and normally a new food when I’m trying to introduce something to him.
So far it has resulted in him eating lots of foods that he had refused in the past including his arch nemesis, the cucumber!
I believe in Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding guidelines i.e that as parents it is our job to take leadership with the what, when, and where of feeding and to let our children determine how much and whether to eat of what we provide. Following these principles there is no point in getting upset if our toddlers choose not to eat as long as we present them with good and healthy food options on a regular basis it is up to them to choose whether to eat it or not.
Remember, every single meal doesn’t have to be perfect – take the pressure off you and your toddler and you’ll be amazed at how slowly but surely things fall into place and your little ones will be infinitely happier and healthier!