Like a lot of moms, I had a plan to keep my child far from the typical 3-year-old diet long before that time came.
I was going to introduce her to all sorts of foods; I wasn’t going to make her anything different than what we were having as a family; and she would have to eat her dinner or else have it for breakfast (that one is my husband’s rule).
I thought it was going so well. My 2-year-old pretty much liked everything.
Then she turned three.
I feel like overnight she began doing exactly what I feared. She wanted nothing but quesadillas, pasta (no sauce, just cheese), and quesadillas and pasta (no sauce, just cheese). And snacks, mom.
I, too, began doing what I feared – I gave it to her. Maybe because she was three-years-old and 25-pounds on a good day or maybe because I just didn’t want to battle; I wanted her to eat.
Before I knew it “yuck,” and “can’t like it” were the top words at the dinner table and I was calling Master Nutrition Therapist and Staff Nutritionist at the Y, Aimee Darling, for help.
How can I encourage my preschooler to try foods other than pasta and quesadillas?
This is called the “white diet” (salty, soft and sugary) and is a typical control issue. They want to dress themselves, feed themselves and have an opinion. They quickly learn that this is a hot button and as parents we bend. It becomes a habit for them and for us.
Fix it before it starts, but as you start seeing these things, start giving them choices: this fruit or this fruit. Give them back their power, but eating within what you think is good for them to eat; Win win for both. Implement small changes one at a time so you don’t have a mutiny. Don’t hover over them – they smell fear and they have your number. Sit back, let them make their choice and walk away.
TIP: It is helpful to create a snack tray using a muffin tin holder. Give them six choices of a few tablespoons in each one. Leave them alone, and grazing is OK – it is a stage at their young age.
What about getting vegetables into their diet? Should I sneak them somehow?
I will blend some veggies down. I don’t do the Deceptively Delicious because, who has time for that? You can always add a small amount of things that no one can tell like butternut squash to a spaghetti sauce, cauliflower to mac and cheese. As the children age, put food in its proper place. It is nourishment; it is a celebration.
What are some suggestions on being able to tell the difference between being stubborn, not liking the taste or possibly having an allergy?
Things take time (21-times to introduce a food before they start acquiring taste for it), so don’t put a lot of expectation on it by saying, “Please eat it!” or by bargaining, “if you eat these, I will give you this,” – don’t do any of that. They are not going to starve if they choose to not like dinner. I don’t make a second meal; I will blend some things down to make things easier for them. Don’t put a lot of power into treats and dessert.
When you are really seeing a lot of aversion, it could be a food allergy. Then, come see me. When they spit things out, have dark circles under the eyes, diaper rashes, bloated stomach, hives, etc. – that is more of an allergy that needs to be looked at. Children will show a food allergy by just not eating it. Trust your gut. We shouldn’t be swayed by what other families are doing or what the popular media tells us. If they are really struggling with mood, sleep, ear infections – those are things I look for.
Instead of a battleground, how can I make mealtime the happy and healthy time it should be?
You have been equipped to be in charge and children will be more comfortable when parents are not so nervous about what we are doing. “This is what we are having. This is what we choose to eat. I’m not bribing you.” They are not supposed to be our friend; we are supposed to be the parent.
Let them choose one item at the grocery store – the vegetable or new fruit. Make a big deal when you eat it: “These green beans have been brought to you by Susan!” It is very Sesame Street. Let them be part of the process. Let them wash veggies, rip lettuce, potato peel. It is an opportunity to teach colors and texture. You’re not shoving down their throat, “this is healthy!” but use something like, “what is your favorite crunchy food?” They become more interested making it a game.
I have a picky husband, too. Shouldn’t the whole family be on board? Both of the parents need to be on the same page. It is 100 percent OK for mom or dad to not like mushrooms, but mom and dad can’t go on and on about how gross they are. Don’t say, “You can’t have M&Ms,” and then you eat them. We lead by example and we are not perfect so we have to be honest with our challenges, too, with them.
We all have issues. It ebbs and flows, and we allow room for grace. It takes time. Just stick to the basics: whole food, moderation.
Aimee Darling teaches classes that are open to the public and Y members about nutrition, as well as private appointments. Check the Y website or call 541-440-9622, ext. 216.
Don’t hover over them — they smell fear and they have your number.