During the early stages of solid food, especially when feeding a first baby, parents tend to be superheroes. No fruit or vegetable is left unoffered! The food processor works overtime, churning out amazing purees! All meals involve colors galore! But then the newness wears off. And maybe some pickiness sets in. Weeks start to look more and more monochromatic. Several days may pass without much veggie intake. You’re not alone if you start to just give the kid what she’s willing to eat instead of what you want her to eat. No pleading, no whining. And before you know it, you’re in a full on toddler food rut. What to do? Bust out! Here’s how.
NO MORE NOODLES
What is it with pasta? Do you find that it’s all your kid wants to eat three meals a day—and maybe only one shape? Well first off, don’t beat yourself up. Whole wheat elbows, quinoa fusilli, buckwheat soba noodles—these are all good choices, and can be paired with great flavors, sauces, and more. To bust out of the pasta rut—especially the white pasta rut—start working in whole grains when you would use noodles. Use quinoa instead of noodles in your chicken soup. Try farro with tomato sauce instead of orzo. Not working? If you have the time and interest, get a pasta machine and make your own noodles with protein-rich eggs and whole grain flours of your choice. You can even “color” them with purees of greens and beets.
Lots of kids have a sweet tooth. Even breastmilk is very sweet. Flip this hardwired desire into an asset; there are plenty of sweet fruits and vegetables that are loaded with key nutrients. Think beets, tomatoes, parsnips, winter squash, berries, bananas and more. If breakfast is a meal that seems to always require a bit of sugary enticement, try using whole grains as breakfast cereal. Hot kamut or millet with whole milk and some cinnamon is pretty hard for anyone to resist.
There are plenty of white foods that are good for you—from ricotta to yogurt to parsnips—but refined white flour breads and pasta and white rice—devoid of fiber and some key minerals and vitamins—are all white ruts to bust out of. Distract your toddler with good white foods as you work in new hues—yellows and even orange are close to white, so start there. Try banana mashed into whole milk yogurt or squash puree mixed into whole wheat mac and cheese.
MAKE FAST FOOD SLOW
Even very young children learn early about fast food. If your toddler’s preference for French fries, chicken “fingers,” or white noodles with butter has already made its way into your home, try offering healthier versions. It’s simple to bread and bake chicken cutlets as well as (sweet potato) “fries.” You can also have them help make and try crispy crunchy healthier treats like kale chips.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH KETCHUP!?
If ketchup seems to be needed to make any bite of food disappear these days, why not make your own ketchup and other dipping purees. Many store bought ketchups contain refined sugar and other additives. You’re in control of the ingredients in your version. The purees can be the very ones you were making just a few months ago, before your big baby sprouted teeth.
COOK IT A DIFFERENT WAY
Sometimes mixing up your cooking methods will result in food being gobbled. Boiled eggs may be out, but have you tried a frittata? A fried egg? Scrambled? Egg-soaked French toast? Poached? Have your toddler watch as you poach; the whirlpool alone might entice her to take a bite. Just be careful around the hot water.
LET THEM DECIDE
Offer your child several ways to bust out of, say, a PB&J obsession. Maybe it’s picking a new, more nutrient-dense bread for their beloved peanut butter. Maybe it’s picking a new, sugar-free jam or even apple butter. Maybe it’s about trying a new nut butter—almond, cashew, sunflower seed. Or maybe it’s introducing the idea of a lunch combo—half a PB&J, but they also have to at least try a new side of their choosing. It might just do the trick.
ARE YOU THE PROBLEM?
This can be a touchy subject, but just who is in charge? Bust out of your own rut! You’re shopping, your toddler is not. Fill the cart with the nutritious whole foods you want your kid(s) to eat and nothing else. Steer clear of buying foods you know will be easy to get them to eat, but you know is not the healthiest choice for them. We know it can be exhausting to produce this much food day in and day out—especially when your audience doesn’t much appreciate it. Think long term.
MIX IT UP
Keep enticing young taste buds with newness. Hit an ethnic grocery for different flavors, pick up a new cookbook, go outside your comfort zone in the kitchen. Rely on gadgets like sushi rollers and dumpling and empanada makers to spur on your experiments—and get your toddler involved.
EAT BY EXAMPLE
Kids notice everything. If you’re personally in a rut, or only eat a limited amount of foods, they see this. Try to eat what you’re asking your toddler to eat. Showing by example—especially at family meal—can lead to desired results.
Simple ways to help your family out of bad eating habits.