by Carley Mendes, Oh Baby Nutrition
The absolute best way to build healthy habits for your child is to begin as soon as they start solids. Offering a wide variety of textures and flavours right from the get-go helps to broaden their palate and encourages adventurous eating. When a baby or toddler is introduced to a new food and rejects it, it’s important to continue reintroducing as it can take several attempts before a new food is accepted. If you have a picky child you may fall into the rut of serving similar and accepted foods time and time again, because they don’t ‘like’ other foods. Although the less they’re exposed to, the less likely they will be to explore different foods when given the chance.
It’s normal for both babies and toddlers to go through phases of interest and disinterest, just keep offering healthy food choices with as little pressure to eat as possible. Pickiness in children can often be associated with wanting control. So much of your child’s day-to-day activity is dictated by an adult, but they have the power to choose what they consume. It can be difficult, but it’s best not to praise a child for eating or scold them for not eating. This can further increase the perceived power they have with their food choices. Instead, offer nutritious food at regular intervals and know that it’s up to them to eat.
My son has always been an incredibly adventurous eater with a hearty appetite and is always up for trying new things. He started showing the first signs of pickiness right after my daughter was born. He was 2.5 years old and had just begun daycare two days a week. I’m sure the recent changes left him feeling out of control and he began rejecting his previously loved foods. My first instinct was to encourage him, “Come on! Why don’t you try it? You should eat, you love this meal.” The stronger I came on, the less interested he was, until finally a light bulb came on and I changed my tune. I told him it was no problem, he didn’t have to eat if he didn’t feel like it, but he did have to stay at the table with us. As soon as the power was removed from his choice not to eat, his hearty appetite returned in full force.
5 strategies to get your toddler on board with healthy eating:
Get them involved
While they might not be ready to chop vegetables, your toddler can do things like help measure, mix, rinse vegetables, use a salad spinner, or help set the table. Meal prep with a little one can take longer and sometimes requires patience, but getting your children involved can help them feel some accomplishment and excitement about the food being served.
Your toddler may be getting a sense of control by refusing the healthy meal you’ve prepared and having you make them macaroni and cheese. Instead, let them be involved in making healthy choices for family meals. Let them decide which vegetable the family eats for dinner: broccoli vs asparagus. Or let them decide how it’s prepared: baked vs
steamed. In the grocery store, allow them to choose a new fruit or vegetable in the produce section they’ve never tried before. Or get them to pick which colour bell pepper goes in the cart: red, green or yellow.
Teach them about real food
Plant a garden if you have a yard, or grow indoor herbs on a windowsill so they can water the plants and watch food grow. Tell your children that healthy food helps them grow strong and helps them with their favourite activities, like riding bikes or swimming. Or pick one healthy food to feature in your house each week. Teach them fun facts about the food, why it’s good for them, how it grows, and try preparing it a few different ways together. As an example: yams are orange, they’re good for your eyes and help you see the pictures in your favourite book, they grow underground in the dirt, and can be mashed up or made into healthy yam fries by baking with olive oil and sea salt.
Make Meals Nutrient Dense
Even if your baby was a “good eater”, there often comes a time when toddlers start rejecting certain foods in favour of refined foods like crackers, pasta, and bread. The longer you can wait to introduce these foods to your baby, the better chance you’ll have of encouraging a well rounded palate in your toddler. Your children learn from your example, so making a conscious effort to incorporate more whole foods in your home is a healthier shift for the entire family.
Filling Nutritional Gaps With A Multivitamin
A multivitamin can help fill the nutritional gaps in your toddler’s diet and give you peace of mind, but most vitamins are synthetic and low quality. Consider a brand made from 100% whole food sources like Pranin Organic PureFood A to Z, which contains 25 essential vitamins and minerals. The suggested serving size of one teaspoon meets the needs of a 150lb adult, so adjust the serving for your children accordingly. Adding it to a morning smoothie with kale or spinach, cucumber, avocado and berries can ensure a good start to the day for your little one.
You can provide your toddler with healthy choices, but don’t force them to eat. Allowing them to decide what they consume will benefit them in the long-term, and ultimately it is up to them. Try not to focus on individual meals as children have the innate ability to self-regulate when it comes to food. Most will consume enough over the course of a day, week, or even a month. So try to relax and enjoy your meal because if you do, it’s more likely your little one will too.
Carley Mendes is a Vancouver-based Registered Holistic Nutritionist specializing in naturally nourishing mama & baby through fertility, pregnancy, & postpartum. Read more from Carley on her website, Oh Baby Nutrition.