This is a common question that I hear regularly from parents trying to broaden their toddler’s eating habits, so I thought that I’d take the question to one of my favorite food experts. Maryann Jacobsen, MS, RD, is behind Raise Healthy Eaters and is co-author of Fearless Feeding—which ranks up there as one of my all-time favorite feeding books.
Here’s some great advice from Maryann about the meat issue:
“There are a variety of reasons toddlers shy away from meat. First, it can be too hard to chew — softer and cut up meat works better. Second, the texture can bother children especially when it’s a new meat. To remedy this parents can encourage toddlers to touch and guess how the food will feel in their mouths.
But growth and development contribute too. Growth slows around two and appetites decrease. Toddlers and preschoolers tend to favor more starchy, carbohydrate heavy foods. For example, if parents serve pasta with a side of meat and veggies, the toddler often goes straight for the pasta. A recent study in Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences provides, shows that growth slows so energy can be diverted to the developing brain. And a key source of energy for the brain is glucose. To give you an idea, a 5 year old’s brain uses two times the glucose an adult brain does. This peak of glucose utilization for the brain is age 4.
This doesn’t mean toddlers and preschoolers should only be fed carbs (or sugar), but it can help parents understand why kids prefer the foods they do. Mixing protein and carbs can help like in meatballs or pulled pork sandwiches. Keep offering foods without pressure or forcing, or kids could develop food aversions. At around age 6, my daughter started eating more protein foods like fish, meat and chicken. My son is slowly getting there too. Patience and exposure are key.”
If you’re looking for some softer meats to try, think ground beef, crumbled sausage, and shredded chicken thighs, which are often much moister than breast meat. Save the steak for later, or give them a large piece that they can chew on to enjoy the flavor without having to worry too much about actual chewing.
For more tips on introducing new foods to your toddlers, this might help: 10 Easy Ways to Help Your Toddler Try New Foods.