"Let's sit at the table please." "We need to eat our food baby." "Honey, let's sit down please." "Ok, just try one bite! You liked it yesterday!" Sound like your meal times? If so, you ARE NOT ALONE!!! When it comes to solids/eating/mealtime, we have never really had any issues..... until now, with our new TODDLERS! From the start (at 6 mo) we did BLW (no purees), and we thoroughly enjoyed it! (I LOVED the fact that it gave me a chance to cook once AND I got to eat too!) From the beginning,the girls were eating EVERYTHING, and I enjoyed SO much getting to spend some quality time in my favorite place in the house with my most favorite people! AND, when we made our grand entrance into toddlerhood, we were just about ready to trade the high chairs for a table and chairs with plates and silverware!
I started exploring more about my the options I had in the kitchen. Specifically for ways I could keep it healthy for the girls AND tasty (espec for me and dad.... you know us grown ups can get pretty picky ourselves sometimes ;) ) Here are a few obstacles I have come across AND some things I have learned along the way!
First and foremost, BEING A "PICKY EATER" IS PART OF BEING A TODDLER. The only problem is that our definition of picky isn't the same as theirs. Toddlers are NATURAL GRAZERS, and as you may already know first hand, they do NOT like to sit still. EVER! Now since they are always on the go, AND because their growth slows drastically from years 1-3, it should not be surprising if your toddler does not want to eat at "breakfast," "lunch," and "dinner" time. Inconsistency is pretty much the only consistent thing about toddler eating patterns. (Part of this has to do with their new found independence as well so keep that in mind when assessing situations!)
Knowing that "being picky" is a completely natural part of this game, there are a few things to consider! Remember to have a variety of options readily available, because even though they like that big ole plate of veggies today, tomorrow they may not blink twice at it. (Keeping it simple is key here. Stock up on produce that you can use in different ways and do as much food prep as you can! You never know how many dinners you may have to cook to figure out what they are in the mood for!)
We also need to consider what to do to make sure our little ones get what their growing bodies and brains need. Smoothies are a great option to sneak in some healthy fruits and veggies (and TONS of other essential must haves like chia seeds, probiotics, Spinach, yogurt, and more!) Our SMOOTHIES BOARD on Pinterest has a growing list of recipes, FYI! One thing that helped me shape our eating routine was our overall ROUTINE. I had split feedings into a "wake up bottle" and a "nap time bottle," and as we starting doing more solids, I slowly replaced the bottles with snacks. So we have ALWAYS gone by the "5 small meals a day" concept, but no one said we had to eat breakfast at breakfast time! (Have fun with your meals and food! Sometimes breakfast for dinner are the days I LOVE to live for!)
There is a bit of controversy when it comes to the amount of meals you should eat a day, and lately there has been more evidence that shows that the less frequent you eat, the more you can INCREASE your weight loss. But for someone like myself (who has ALWAYS been a "go go go" kind of girl), and the girls (who are also always on the move) it makes more sense for us to do "3 meals plus snacks" (Our snacks are pretty much mini meals. I post our WEEKLY MENUS HERE in case you want a better idea of what our food week looks like! :) )
“After about 3 hours without food, blood sugar begins to fall. And after 4 hours, your body has already digested whatever you sent down earlier. Once you’ve crossed the 5-hour mark, your blood sugar begins to plummet, and you (are likely to) grab whatever you can to refuel.” (Read more about that HERE on WebMd). Remember, while loosing a little weight wouldn't hurt, it's not my goal with food intake. The types of foods I put on in the kitchen (and on the table) are going to be what determines our health and, in turn, weight! JUST REMEMBER that you want to make sure everyone is getting enough CALORIES in their diets! What are some things that you can eat to make sure you get "good fats" and a healthy caloric intake you may be wondering...
Now that we have better insight as to why toddlers are notorious for being unpredictable eaters, lets talk about why our "can do no wrong" angels sometimes make you feel like ripping your hair out in the kitchen sometimes. Remember how I mentioned that "Ms. Independent" is going to make things very inconsistent? Since toddlers have just spent the last year learning that they are their own person, it really shouldn't come as a shock that they are going to want to do everything themselves. (Toddlers be like: Thanks for the help learning Mom. I got it now, so leave me alone!)
Over the past few months, the girls have developed their own way of telling us no/showing disinterest (a "hair flip"... their mother's daughters lol). Usually we get the "flip" after we try to help them with their food/plate/fork/cup, and 99% of the time they continue trying to execute the activity on their own. Not perfect, but I'll take it because at least I KNOW what the "issue" is.
Since they are wanting to do more and more on their OWN now, I pulled out a mini plastic kitchen set (thanks Grandma for our gift from India!) and they "cook" with me (in the kitchen floor). I have always included them in my cooking (i.e. when they were in high chairs, I used to cook facing them and show/tell them everything I was doing). Lately, we have been actually sitting on the counters and helping mommy, or just supervising and snacking... living that hard life you know! (No need to be nervous or worry, we are SUPER safe about our counter chilling!) The girls LOVE to sprinkle on the cheese, or help stir.... anything that makes them feel like they helped! They always clap after they do something they know they are supposed to do, and their faces light up in a way I can't describe. People bond over food ALL THE TIME, and it doesn't always have to be over dinner at some restaurant! Right?
In addition to helping cook, they like watch me do certain things (we are into toast and butter/pb lately). It's easy for me to get them to enjoy their food if I involve them in the process. For example: They have a play toaster (pops up the toast and everything!) and play food, and they take their little fake knives and dishes and "spread the butter on their toast." Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so that makes me a happy (and full) mommy! Pouring a few drops of something in a tiny dish/bowl is not a bad idea either. They LOVE to dip, and eat. Just be sure not to put anything TOO flavorful (or too muc) down, or you may risk having a condiment licker instead of a food eater!
There are some days when I will make them something that I would like for them to eat (for ex: sweet potato fries and pasta salad) AND fix myself something quick and easy (like a bunless veggie burger). After they have had a few bites of (or just flat out ignore) what I made THEM, I put my plate down at THEIR table. Most of the times they take the bait and end up eating some of my food too, getting them the MOST nutritional yummies in with the LEAST amount of headache!
This little trick also comes in super handy when we are in a playful mood. We already know toddlers don't sit still for ANYONE, which is all good... until it's time to eat. I must have spent more time trying to get them to sit at their tables and eat than I did doing anything else in that kitchen the for the first week we had started using it! I started having HUGE self doubts about what I was doing and was stuck in a dead end! They won't sit IN the highchairs, and they wont sit AT the table! This is PERFECTLY NORMAL! (I mean hello, they are already running around like monkeys all day! Food is not always going to stop them!)
I started leaving the kitchen set out, put some ABC magnets on the fridge, and have things that they can count/put in and out of the box (granola bars, oatmeal packets for ex) so that they have something to occupy themselves with, not only while I cook, but while they eat too. Sometimes they just want to play and come back for a bite when they are ready. Sometimes they sit at the table and eat. It's hard to tell what they want. I always start with a "ok lets sit (and sign "sit") at the table and eat (sign "eat"). If they don't want to sit, then I get myself together and accommodate accordingly. (this is a GREAT time to unload the dishwasher, clean the counters, or just sit and enjoy some HOT coffee/food for a change!)
Keep in mind that they have tiny tummies, and watch for cues that they are full. For us, we either start dropping bites on the floor, or just turn the plate upside down (whether they ate all the food or not). Only putting one "course" on their plate at a time, and using smaller serving sizes, tends to help them focus on eating more (vs just setting down a plate that has too many choices and too much food on it!). It can also help you monitor how much they are eating of what ;) Cutting foods into appropriate sizes will help everyone too! (i.e. something that is on the chewier side, smaller pieces; something like a waffle/pancake/bread, larger pieces are ok bc they can take bites.)
I have a few new ideas and am really excited to test them out! The "Toddler Trays" are going to take snacking to a whole nother leve! I will post it to my Pinterest when it happens. (So be sure to follow us if you aren't already!!!) I have been toying with the idea of making them a snack corner as it is, but I know they can get carried away with their cereals and crackers. (I am working on transitioning these types of snacks for outings only! You know I will keep you posted!) Fridge snacks (like fruits, veggies, cheeses), on the other hand, are free game throughout the day, they just may not realize it yet. So, I am going to see how the idea of making them a "snack shelf" in the fridge (on the door) with the girls snacks works out. (I want to introduce them to a few more foods first.)
Stay tuned for our next "The Toddlerhood Experience" MINI SERIES post where it's all about the meltdowns! (What's life without a few 'Independent Women'?) Be sure to FOLLOW our blog so you don't miss a beat!
*** This post HEAVILY references information from Dr. Sears "FEEDING PICKY EATER" article. While I don't look to any one specific person (or parenting style for that matter), I can say that he does seem to have some useful info out there! HERE is his main link!***