For some parents, meal time with their littles is an enjoyable event. For others, it can become a downright battle. Not every child is the same, and so some of us have to work just a little harder than others to get our kids to eat. Toddlers can become especially picky about what they’ll down at the dinner table, wrinkling their nose at their peas or spitting out everything, from chicken to tofu. Which is why, of course, moms will do some desperate things to get their toddlers to eat.
Of course, we also want to assist our children in establishing a healthy relationship with food. We don't want to force them to eat, or continue eating when they say they're full, or tell them that some foods are "good" while other foods are "bad." Simultaneously, we want our children to be getting the nutrition they need, so when your toddler's eating habits start to regress, you can't help but worry. I'm talking worry to the point that, as parents, we're happy with them eating pretty much anything.
So, If you’re currently finding yourself in the trenches of feeding a picky eater or a regressing toddler, don’t worry; you’re not alone. More so, you definitely won't be getting any judgement from me, as I've done some pretty desperate things to get my kid to take just one more bite of zucchini.
Busting Out The Toys
Some little ones have a tendency to swat away at food when it's coming their way. Even if they haven’t tried it yet; even if you know they’ll like it; even if they’re starving, their little ninja hands will be quick to block any attempt made to bring a spoon to their mouth. This is when some parents bring out the toys to keep those little hands busy. I don’t know how many times I’ve wound up giving my son a couple of monster trucks just so he’d open his mouth for a bite of a chicken tender.
Many of us grew up with the promise of dessert only after we finished everything else on our plate. Of course, here are many parents who are keeping up with the tradition. One mom-friend I spoke with told me she will often offer a sip of juice in exchange for another bite of her son’s dinner, stating that he usually ends up eating everything on his plate after a while, once he realizes it’s food he likes.
...And When That Doesn't Work, Straight Begging
Of course, when our sly negotiation skills fail, begging is always an option.
Making Mealtime Into a Game
For those with kids who understand the rules of a game, you might be familiar with this tactic. Making mealtime less about negotiations (or begging) and more about games is one way to get them to eat a little more. Challenging them to see who can eat the most ravioli probably isn’t the healthiest way to get them to eat, but if you’re in a rush and want to make sure they got at least a bit of food in, this might be a tactic you’ve resorted to.
Cutting Food Into Fun Shapes...
Sure, a sandwich is just a sandwich. However, once the crusts are cut and it’s shaped like a star, it becomes so much more.
No one is better at making food fun than the Japanese homemakers that came up with kyaraben, the art of styling and decorating meals to resemble animals, people, plants, even popular anime characters. Many parents in the U.S. have caught on to the kyaraben trend, like mom Laleh Mohmedi who can make an Olaf out of egg whites and pretzel sticks. Seriously, homemade cookies shaped like trees are probably totally cool with your kid, too, so don’t sweat it if you can't pull off the aforementioned works of art.
...Or Making Their Food Extremely Colorful
Another way to go, of course, is to add some colorful fruits and vegetables to any meal. Not only will that particular dish become healthier (probably) but the combination of vivid colors might just make it more appetizing to your little.
Letting Them Eat Off Your Plate
Sometimes kids just don’t want to eat off the cool blue tray you bought them that has all the different compartments for various foods. Or they won’t like the look of the Winnie-the-Pooh plate their pasta happens to be on. They will, however, dig right into the pasta on your plate. Why? Who the hell knows. My son will reluctantly graze on scrambled eggs in one of his plastic bowls but he eats much, much better if I let him share my breakfast. Sit them on your lap and try it out. Sometimes, it’s just what the doctor ordered.
Utilizing Screen Time
In light of the recent new changes being made to screen time recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics, many of us can breathe a collective sigh of relief that our children’s brains aren’t rotting when they're watching Little Baby Bum videos during dinner time.
Seriously, though, sometimes a little distraction will change a picky toddler into an all-out garbage disposal of a child. Some mothers with SPD toddlers (sensory-processing disorder) also recommend a bit of television distraction to help their kid eat, especially if they’re failing to thrive. A healthy baby with a slight Sesame Street addiction is probably better than a sick child who doesn’t know who Elmo is.
Reading Certain Books
And speaking of distractions, when TV is simply not an option, books will often do the trick. Reading your kid a story, or maybe running through the numbers or the alphabet in their favorite board book might help keep them entertained while they pick up tiny fistfuls of spaghetti. Just make sure not to use any library books, as they might end up with more marinara stains than necessary.
Feeding Them Even Though They Can, Technically, Feed Themselves
For whatever reason, some kids would rather have mom or dad spoon yogurt into their mouths than do it themselves. Some kids have developmental delays, but others just simply can’t be bothered with the act of bringing food to their own mouths from time to time. You might want to scream bloody murder at this point, especially if you know they are fully capable of picking up that cracker and biting into it themselves. Eventually, though, you'll probably just give in and feed them without arguing.
Following Them Around, Food In Hand
Some children simply don't appreciate sitting down for one full meal, and would rather graze throughout the day. This does mean, however, that more than a few moms have to chase their toddlers with a fork full of rice and beans, hoping their kid will take a bite. This might not be the ideal way to feed a toddler, especially considering how much food will likely land on your carpet, but if your kid needs to gain a few pounds, chances are you won’t really mind crawling after them with apple slices.
Changing The Scenery
If your child isn’t receptive to eating at the dinner table, why not try a picnic outside? Some parents find that their toddler is more likely to chow down on grapes and cereal bars if they’re sitting on their front porch or on a blanket in the backyard. It’s probably not a tactic you’ll use daily, but if you’ve got a picky eater on your hands, chances are you’ve tried getting them to eat everywhere from bed to living room couch to kitchen counter, so why not outside?
Good Old Fashioned Trickery
Because a slight of hand can go a long way, my friends.
Breaking Down And Giving Them What They Really Want
Some parents wait till after dinner for dessert. Others are cool with just making sure the kid eats something. So sometimes, giving in to what they want to eat rather than what you think they should eat (like spinach or carrots) can be an effective method. Of course, mainlining them sugar is probably not the ideal way to go about dinner time but, hey, no judgement here.