Oh toddlers, with their quirky food habits. I'm sure that your toddler has his or her favorite foods, and that those favorite foods sometimes do an about face when you least expect it. If you're having trouble getting your little one to eat variety or to try foods other than their current faves, here are some ideas for you to try.
Oh wait, I do want to say this: It's normal for your toddler to want to eat what's familiar to them. It's normal for them to prefer certain foods over others. It's normal for some textures to be tricky. This is part of the process of them learning to eat a variety of food—and of your process teaching them to be a healthy eater. It all takes time (though I realize that knowing that does not make the logistics of feeding them dinner easier!)
- Vary their favorites. I know that it's tempting to give your little one strawberries every day when they are just loving them, but there will always come a point when they decide that they don't want them—and it's even likely that they will decide they don't want them ever again. You can prolong their interest in a food if you don't let them have it quite as much. So blueberries one day for breakfast and a different fruit the following day. Even if they don't eat the other fruit, they will be learning that we eat a variety of foods—and sometimes you simply run out of their favorites.
- Change up snacks. My girl would eat Cheerios and raisins for every snack if given the choice. But the more she has them, the less she is willing to try other foods. So I have an every other day rule that we do our best to stick to. You'd be surprised at how willing she is to go along with this! I give her the choice between two other snacks and that's that.
- Offer favorites with other foods. If your kiddo only wants crackers and you regularly only give them crackers, they will come to expect only crackers. (And I've found that after two days of doing the same thing, you've created a toddler routine!) Try to include another food or two with their favorite so they are always reminded that we sometimes eat other foods. It's okay if they don't always eat it, but you might just be surprised.
- Talk about variety. It's important to talk to your kiddo about their food, even if they seem too little to understand. The more you can get into the habit of this, the more it will become routine and the better they will understand why certain foods show up on their plates. And try to give them choices between snacks, especially when trying to encourage them to branch out.
- Take baby steps with new textures. If your kid doesn't like creamy things (mashed potatoes, pureed soups, yogurt), start by serving those foods with some texture mixed in. Serve just a little soup stirred into grains, leave the potatoes really chunky, or drizzle a little yogurt over fruit. Or, if they don't seem to like meat, try just a little ground meat with black beans on Taco night, a small amount of cubed chicken in their pasta, or thinly sliced salami. Keep portions really small and remember that learning to enjoy new textures is a process—and that it might be okay if your kiddo doesn't like everything!
- Let a particular food run out...and don't buy it! Hear me out: If you really, really are frustrated by how many crackers/fruit snacks/etc your kiddo is eating, you can make the choice to not buy them. Maybe you don't boycott them forever, but maybe you "forget" to get them at the store one week and see what happens. You want to know what will likely happen? The little one will ask and be upset at first, but they will move on. Kids are SO adaptable and they will be on to the next thing—maybe even a new food. I realize this might sound scary and you might not even believe me, but it's one of the easiest ways to reset snacking habits.
Two examples for you:
My daughter loves crackers. There was a period at her first daycare that I remember as the "goldfish period" because she was served them or cheddar bunnies literally everyday. Now, I don't think that the crackers are evil, but I did notice that she became more reluctant to eat other foods when this was happening. Now at her preschool, they have whole grain crackers (with cheese, guacamole, salsa, dip) a few times a week for snack. There is variety in terms of what they are served with, so she hasn't gotten too devoted to one particular combination. This means she's much more able to go with the flow at snack time. (I've also stopped buying crackers for our house, so that too has helped to calm her devotion.)
The other afternoon, we were going to walk to the library after nap. L asked to bring Cheerios and raisins (of course) and I reminded her that she'd had them the day before, so we'd have to pick something else. I gave her the choice between an apple and a banana and she sort of stuck her lower lip out at me. I packed the apple and we went walking. An hour after I first offered the apple, she decided she was hungry. And because the only thing I had with us was the apple—she ate it. Happily even!
I'm not saying that would necessarily work every time or that there wouldn't be some fuss, but I'm trying to show you that you—YOU as parents—have a say in what your kids eat too. They can't eat what you don't have in the house, so if you really want to make a change—this goes for snacks in particular—put a few on hiatus.
Is that too extreme for you? I'd love to hear!
You may also like: 10 Tips to Easy Ways to Help Your Toddler Taste New Foods