The other day, someone on Instagram asked me how I get my daughter to eat oatmeal. My response? “Ha! I can’t make her eat anything!” I elaborated because I know what she was really asking: How can we parents help our kids to understand that the healthy foods we are serving them are both nutritious and delicious—that they will like them if they just try them!
It can be exasperating to make meals for a toddler, but especially if you think you’re the one who’s in charge. I mean to a certain extent you are—obviously they can’t cook yet!—but I’ve come to realize that it’s just as much about them as it is about us parents. They get a say. They get a choice. And if not? Mealtimes are simply a power struggle.
Think back to when you were a kid. If your parents told you to do something, what were you most likely to do? The opposite, right? Or at least, you pushed a little because you didn’t want to be told what to do. (I hope that wasn’t just me!) And the same is true for our toddlers. They are right smack in the middle of figuring out who they are, that they are separate from us, and that they have a lot of say over their little worlds, so the last thing they are going to want to do is just eat whatever shows up in front of them.
But there are a few things you can do to help their immediate reaction not be negative:
Give them choices. There are a lot of families that offer two options and let the kid pick. This has always worked in our house for things like shoes and clothing, but not at all for food. If I offer broccoli or green beans, say, she won’t pick either. So instead, I give her choice at the table by letting her decide which veggies to eat. Example: When I make a stir fry, I include a few vegetables that I know she has liked in the past and let her pick which ones she eats. And I let her be, even if she only touches the carrots. That is enough.
Think past today. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but think of your toddler’s intake over the course of the week, not the day. You’ll be amazed at how much this helps you relax about the day they ate three bananas for breakfast and only plain noodles at dinner!
Make meals a ritual. Getting back to the oatmeal: Part of the reason that my girl happily eats it now is that I’ve been making it about once a week for over a year. It’s normal. It, like pancakes, eggs, toast, and cereal, is something that we sometimes have for breakfast. It’s not scary since it’s now familiar. This takes time though—she used to only pick out the raisins or berries and leave the rest! But this is the same reason that we do theme dinner nights in our house: toddlers love routine, so the more they know that what’s coming isn’t new or different, the better. And when after a few offerings, they become comfortable with the concept of oatmeal (or tacos, or pasta), you can experiment and vary things from there. But the base is a known quantity.
This Apple Raisin Oatmeal is a variation that we do regularly. It typically happens later in the week when we’ve eaten through most of the fruit and we’re down to a few apples and raisins. It’s easy, quick, and really flavorful. And it has a balanced mix of whole grains, produce, and protein to get everyone off to a good start.
The peanut butter helps the oats hold together somewhat, so it’s easy for little eaters to enjoy this with a spoon…or their fingers! It’s delicious without the nut butter, though, so skip it if there’s a nut allergy and try a dollop of yogurt or a splash of milk instead.
Apple Raisin Oatmeal with Peanut Butter
If you have leftovers, try storing them in an airtight container overnight, then mixing them with plain whole milk yogurt the next day—if your toddler will go for it! We like our oatmeal cooked, but not so much that the grains are falling apart. If you want a more traditional oatmeal consistency, use 2 cups water and cook until the water is absorbed.
Makes 3-4 servings
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 apple, grated
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 tablespoons peanut butter (or other nut butter)
- milk, for serving
- Heat 1 1/2 cups water in a medium pot over high heat. When it’s almost about to boil, lower to medium low and add all ingredients except the peanut butter. Cook, stirring often, until the oats are softened and the water is absorbed, about 8-10 minutes. Put the lid on, remove from heat, and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir in the peanut butter and serve with milk, as desired.
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