First, lets get rid of the myth that babies and children won’t like vegetables. Okay, good. Some tastes and textures might not immediately suit your child’s undeveloped palate, but with consistent attempts, they will, more often than not, learn to like and even love the bitterness of kale and the gooeyness of tomatoes’ innards (my personal feat 19 years ago.)
We shouldn’t assume or prepare for picky eaters.
Lets avoid saying things like “this is something new, but lets try it anyway.” And lets not stand by biting our nails, preparing for a food fight (not the fun kind.) Our children’s reluctance to eat vegetables will arise from these verbal and physical cues, so sit back, relax and assume your kid will love veggies and fruit. And if you’re a person who doesn’t like broccoli or avocado, try hiding it for the sake of your child’s nutrition.
We shouldn’t give into our kids’ food related demands.
What we spend time making for our kid should be the food they eat. I’m not saying they need to finish every last bite; to the contrary, they don’t even have to eat it, we simply should not make them mac and cheese after we’ve spent any amount of time creating a well-balanced meal.
If I provide a well-rounded meal of, quinoa and tofu, with sides of, spinach, tomatoes, cheese and blueberries that will be the only food provided at that given meal. If the toddler demands a peanut butter sandwich I will not make it, and neither should you. I don’t refuse her cries for a peanut butter sandwich out of pure power of authority. I refuse her demands for two reasons. First, because I spent time making her a meal that is nutritious. Second, because this is a teaching moment. She will learn to like, and try, other foods if that is what she is given. She will not learn to try, and like, other foods if I make her a peanut butter sandwich every time she asks for it.
That being said…
While I won’t make a whole new meal, I do ask the child I watch if she would like anything in particular, or I offer her a few options she can choose from. If she asks for something specific, I’ll often incorporate it into the meal, unless she wants ice cream and cupcakes. Doing this makes her a part of the food preparation process, and allows her to make decisions, within certain guidelines.
Well-rounded meals should include:
Veggies: raw/steamed/roasted veggies. I recommend giving veggies plain, without butter or salt. While we might think raw veggies taste plain, to our baby’s undeveloped/uncorrupted palate, raw veggies offer an array of exotic tastes and textures that don’t need to be enhanced. Once they can appreciate and enjoy raw veggies then you can incorporate butter, oils, and sauces.
Fruits: (With no added sugars.)
Grains: Preferably whole grains such as, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa (actually a seed,) etc.
Protein: Meat, soy, beans, fish, (avocado!)
Making mealtime more enjoyable.
This task can be difficult for no reason other than our own impatience. Prepare yourself for the time-consuming mess this process will be, but it can also be really fun for you and your baby! When you’re first introducing your baby to food (other than breast-milk/formula) there are a few fundamental things I recommend to help in creating a stress free environment.
- 1.Don’t worry about the mess! It’s going to be messy, it’s just something we have to accept and once you do so, you can (calmly) let your baby explore and touch his food. *This isn’t an all things goes scenario; Don’t let them: throw food, or put feet on the table. As they get older table manners can become more extensive.
- Things you can do to limit some of the mess: Strip your baby down to their diaper, this way you wont have to spend 20 minutes scrubbing out the inevitable food splatter. I recommend getting rubber/wipe down bibs such as, baby bjorn bib.
- Try to sit down and eat with your baby. Watching you eat will interest and motivate them to copy your eating habits. And yes, you too should eat some vegetables, if for no other reason than to set a good example.
- Give them time. Make sure you have at least 40 minutes open to let them “try” to eat. As adults we often eat too quickly, squeezing in the “annoying” yet necessary task. These are unhealthy habits for us, so lets not pass it onto our kids. The process will be much more enjoyable if you can forget about the clock and let your baby explore and maybe eat the food.
- Don’t spoon-feed them! Let your baby do it on his own, using his hands at first and eventually graduating to utensils. I got this tip from Baby-led Weaning and it proved to be very helpful in making the eating process more successful and enjoyable. When we spoon-feed our babies we do it at our pace, too fast for our little ones. When we rush them, we also frustrate them and ourselves. Let them have a (literal) hands-on experience with their food.
- They might not eat, that’s okay. Don’t force them to eat, they might just look and touch their food the first few times. Eventually they will want to try their food, so don’t panic if they don’t eat right away. It’s a new experience for them.
Some things from Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman
1. Course your child’s meals out: You can either use this method all the time or specifically if you’re having trouble getting your toddler to try something new. Whatever food your kid might be resisting (veggies, fruits, or other), try bringing this food out first, and alone. If that food is the only option your toddler will be much more likely to try it, after they eat all of it (or at least try it,) bring the next course out.
2. Cool it on snack time(s): Stick with: Breakfast, Lunch, Snack, Dinner. Not: Breakfast, Snack, Snack, Lunch, Snack, Dinner. I’ve always disliked the amount we (Americans) depend on snack-times to occupy and settle our children. Having multiple snack times a day, it seems to me, could create a breeding ground for future food dependency.
Why: Besides the possibility of later food dependency, the immediate outcomes of an all day snacking habit can be that they won’t eat well during their actual mealtimes, because they aren’t hungry! They are also much more likely to act out during mealtime because they are not focused on their meal …because they are not hungry! If your kid isn’t focused or eating well at mealtimes, assess how much you’re letting them snack during the day, and what they are snacking on.
How to not snack in the U.S.: Druckerman recognizes that in the U.S. it is difficult to break the snacking routine, because your kids will constantly be around others who are snacking, and also sharing their food. I’ve set out on outings without snacks, on purpose, so that the child I watch will be hungry and interested in eating during mealtime. My plan often fails because the other parents and nannies we are out with have abundant, ready to share, snacks. So, I’ve devised a system. I bring light snacks such as, raisins, oranges, grapes and apples, broccoli. These fruits and veggies obviously count as snacks, but they are not loaded with filling carbs, like most other snacks parents and nannies bring.