Friday, July 20, 2012

Picky toddler? Just Chill.

My first child, Ben, ate pretty much everything I put in front of him. Everyone told me that I was lucky. I thought, no, this isn't about luck; this is about good parenting and my oodles of nutrition experience! Now, with my second, Emily, who's almost 2, I'm starting to change my tune. Not a lover of veggies, she's a stubborn little thing!

What to do? I stick with the advice I've given others over the years: Chill. Don't show a single iota of emotion when your child refuses to eat something. That is how the battle of the wills takes over. And slowly but surely, your child will start eating veggies.


Provide a veggie on the plate, every. single. day. Ideally both at lunch and dinner, but at LEAST one. Do raw (if child can chew it). Do cooked. Do dips. Do plain. Do sauced. Do steamed. It doesn't matter. Just put it there. The repeated exposure is very important for success in the long run.

Be matter-of-fact. "That's BOCKIE! I no like BOCKIE!" "Okay," says you. "No broccoli. So. How about those Yankees?" Refuse to engage in a battle. Then you have already won half of it!

Practice a little reverse psychology. Emily loves poking her nose in my food, saying, "Wanna taste it!" She does this with pretty much everything I eat, even salad. When I willingly share, she usually spits it out with an "I-don-like-it." So I say, "No, these are MY vegetables, you HAD your lunch," or something similar, and I hoard it with some serious drama. This gets her to really want what I'm eating, so after a few "No, this is mine"'s, eventually I'll give in, say, "Ok, ok, you win, you win!" and hand over something. And from this little technique I now have a little lover of red bell pepper (even raw!), cherry tomatoes, and tofu (which she endearingly calls "tofut" as in, "toe foot").

Do not force your child to eat. As frustrating as it is to see your delicious sauteed asparagus grow cold, wilted, and wrinkled on your child's place, let it go. When your child is done eating, take it away and move on. It's ok to eat it yourself, as in, "MMM Thank you! More for me!"

Be a role model. Eat your veggies. Enjoy them. Show your child that it's just what we do.

Dine out regularly, if it's within your budget. No matter how much I cook, my food will never come close to tasting as yummy as food at our local Asian joint. Order a few different things and put a little of everything on your child's plate. This is a powerful technique. It exposes children to new foods; it adds a bit of excitement to meals; it provides a sense of adventure around food. There's nothing cuter than watching a 1 1/2-year-old eating sweet potato tempura sushi. And speaking of dining out with little ones, can I please share a little pet peeve? What is with these children's menus? It's like a pro-child-obesity conspiracy! What, the only things kids are allowed to have are chicken nuggets, grilled cheese, and pizza? Drives me bonkers. (One time I tried to order Ben a vegan pizza off the kids menu; I asked them to substitute broccoli for the cheese and they wouldn't do it -- they would only do a huge one. Really!) So we just share what we order. An added benefit, this helps us (parents) with portion control.

It's ok to hide veggies. I'm not talking about a chunk of Brussels sprout in a pile of mashed potatoes. I'm talking about the Power of Purees. Here are a few ideas (veggies are to be cooked to soft stage and then pureed with a bit of water or plant-based milk until uniform):

  • Puree of carrot, beet, and/or squash in brownies or whole grain muffins
  • Puree of green beans and/or peas in bean burgers
  • Puree of pretty much anything in tomato sauce, served on pasta
  • Puree of cauliflower in creamy soups, mashed potatoes, even yogurt

The purpose isn't to pull the (faux) wool over your child's eyes; it's to get them gradually used to the subtle flavor of veggies so they'll better accept them as time goes on.

How about you? I'd love to hear your successful techniques to get kids to try (and like!) veggies!


Leigh said...

My 17 month old loves pasta, but doesn't like tomato sauce. So I will puree spinach with olive oil and use it as a sauce. He likes it much better than the tomato. Also, Walnut spinach and basil pesto he loves on pasta. He will drink pretty much anything with a straw, so we will make fruit smoothies with added kale or spinach, and he drinks it up!

Dina said...

Whoo, great tips! When I wrote this, I completely forgot about green smoothies... Emily loves them also, but I make sure to use an opaque cup with a cover and straw. :-) Lately I've had to be careful because Ben is allergic to raw greens (he developed oral allergy syndrome, a bummer!). So I've been doing a lot of creative veggie cookery. Thanks so much Leigh!