Right as my boys were about to transition to table food, Amalah wrote a post referring to the fact her toddler would not eat anything. This post scared me because I was about to experience this times two. In the comments, the readers suggested the book “How to Get Your Kid to Eat: But Not Too Much” by Ellyn Satter. I bought it in hopes of preparing for toddlerhood and loved it.
To summarize, the parent is responsible for offering a variety of nutritious foods. The child is responsible for deciding what and how much to eat. That’s it. It sounds simple, but anyone who’s had a toddler knows how unsimple this theory is in reality.
For toddler age, the book recommends offering a selection of 3-5 foods at each meal. This may sound like a lot, but you want to offer a balanced diet at each meal. In the beginning of our transition, we had a few foods we knew the boys would always eat – cheese, carbs, fruit, and turkey meatballs. We offered a few of these foods at every meal then used the two additional spots to offer new foods. We continued to rotate in new foods and change the “standard” foods as they grew to like different foods.
Here’s where the emotional part comes in. You have to accept your kids may not want to even try the food the first 10-15 times you put it in front of them. It is tempting to bribe them or force them to eat, but we have always stuck with our golden rule – no battles at mealtimes. The child is responsible for deciding how much and what to eat.
Over time, we’ve noticed a trend. Some meals, the boys eat only pasta. Some meals, they scarf down peas. Some meals, they eat a little bit of everything. But over the course of a week, they eat a balanced diet. Different days they have different needs and wants, just like adults crave soup one day and meat another. And even though they may not eat a new food, they are still seeing it, smelling it, and getting to know that new food.
This strategy has worked well for our family. If my boys eat an all-fruit dinner, I don’t worry because I know I have done my job by offering them nutritious foods. I also don’t feel like a short-order cook, hoping they will eat something. With the exception of throwing food and smearing food in hair, we’ve had very little stress at mealtimes with one picky eater and one not-picky eater.
Now that they are older and enjoy a wide variety of foods, we don’t always offer 4-5 options at each meal. We go back to this strategy when we’re having something new. The only downside of having two little boys chowing down is our very large grocery bill.
PS. Amalah also reported success with this method but after a bazillion Google searches and paging through every post after the eating post I can not find it. The Backyardigans is almost over so I’ve only got a few minutes left to enjoy my hot coffee. I love you guys but enjoying hot coffee while two toddlers are awake… very rare. Must now go stare out window while savoring every sip.