How can I get my toddler to eat the food I give her? Do they come with highly-developed taste buds?

Hmm, well…the answer to this is, you won’t ever get her to eat everything you want her to eat! These little people are extremely determined beings and for some crazy reason they have highly-developed taste buds at their very tender ages.

My little 2-year-old regularly picks up a delicious mushroom or other gourmet veggie off her plate and hands it to me with this look that says, “Get this away from me. It is evil. It is disgusting. I want nothing to do with it.” I roll my eyes. Seriously, kid…you can’t even set it aside? You want it out of your sight? I am appalled. I worked hard to make that, you know.

Nonetheless, I have a few tricks up my sleeve that have worked well with my kiddos. First of all, I make sure there has been a good two hour window since our last snack.  Now, we are a family of grazers. However, we graze only during certain windows.  7-8am.  9:30-10:30am.  12:30-1:30pm.  3-4pm.  5:30-7pm.  We snack. Then we close out snacks until the next meal or snack. Done. No questions asked. They may whine or cry or throw a fit. I don’t care.  I know  they are not starving.

Secondly, I am strategic about how I place the food before them.  Let’s use lunch as an example.  I yell, “Lunchtime!”  And…the little ones comes running. With older kids you might get a wide-eyed look if you saw what was on the plate for my little ones.  Slices of cucumber. Yes, that’s it.  And the beauty of one to five year-olds eating lunch with me is that they don’t care that they don’t see a full lunch before them.  They are excited about this really cool cucumber snack.

I watch them eat.  Once they’ve munched on their cucumbers awhile and are just about done, I whip out another veggie. Maybe some carrots or some slices of red pepper. Excited hands grab the veggies. Remember, they are not distracted by any other food. They ate what was on their plate and now all they see are the fresh slices of bell pepper.  Once I am satisfied with their veggie intake, I am ready to introduce the protein.  Depending on the kid and the day, I might hand out a slice of cheese, a boiled egg, or some sandwich meat.  Or maybe I cooked up some homemade chicken tenders. I am not so concerned how much they eat, but that they eat some.  I always look for balance.

I save the carb for last, as my kids could live off of carbs.  Some kids aren’t like this, but I find I save for last the thing that they would fill themselves up on if I put it out first.  So, it might be bread and butter, noodles, potatoes or rice…but save those carbs for the end. Strategically placing food before kids gives them the chance to eat what they otherwise would not have chosen to eat.  I love it. It works and it makes me so happy to see them eating so well, too!  Just remember, don’t let them even see the other food. It is tempting!

Thirdly, no juice or milk before meals.  Water is fine.  But, I always save juice and milk as a special bonus. Once you are done with your food, I am happy to get you some juice. (Of course, I always water it down a bit.)  Stay consistent with this and they will learn that this is just the way it is done in your house.  They may beg until they are blue in the face. Don’t give in.  If they consistently fill up on juices and milk they will not get the food nutrition that they need.  Save the liquids for after meals. It will be like a little dessert item to them.

Finally, I have a rule in my house.  No dessert, no sweet thing (even yummy fruits)…until after the meal and only IF you have had a decent lunch.  Decent is all measured by me.  Every kid is different. Every kid has days he eats less.  If my three-year-old has had three slices of cucumber, two  pieces of celery with hummus, one-half chicken tender and a cracker…I am happy. That is a great meal.

Some days my 2-year-old leaves her plate half-eaten and my four-year-old, having cleared her plate,  gets her “sweet thing”.  Little sister just stares at big sister eating the chocolate.  Then, she comes back to the table and says.  “Mommy, I want my carrots now.”  She sits down, finishes her carrots and smiles at me…because she knows she is now eligible for her “sweet thing”. It is amazing how well boundaries work when used.

Image used under Creative Commons License –Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski – 01/21/2015

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