Thoughts on Feeding a {strong-willed} Toddler : What’s Been Working For Us

 

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This is not a “how to get your kid to eat broccoli post” because the truth is, I just don’t know. Elena still won’t touch it. Just like I don’t think there is one way to raise kids, there is definitely not one way to feed kids. I feel fairly confident that usually by 5 years of age most kids can eat by themselves without a bib (can I get an, amen?!) and usually eat a variety of food options. With that being said I think the years between 1-4 can feel like a daily struggle or battle for some.

Just like there are kids who are naturally good sleepers and dream nappers, I think there are kids who are naturally good eaters. If you have one of those, just count your blessings and ignore this post 🙂 For everyone else here’s what I have learned, I tend to think there are three type of kids: 1) those like I said who are naturally good, easy eaters 2) those who are semi-adventurous eaters, but have strong wills and 3) those who are very picky eaters and have strong wills. Elena probably falls into the number 2 category.

So, here’s a little background. Elena has always been a good eater. I mean she came out of the womb, rooting her little mouth, looking for something to latch on to 🙂 She was (is) a good nurser, has always gained weight and was super interested in food around 5-6 months. We tried the whole puree route and to be honest it was just a struggle. She didn’t seem to like the consistency and I wasn’t too keen about having to prepare something separate from her. By default, we started baby led weaning. We just started giving her bigger pieces of whatever we had to gnaw on starting around 7 months. It just worked for us. She was pretty content to hold and suck on a piece of apple or try and gum a piece of sweet potato and I loved not having to blend and puree baby food. Around 8 months she figured out the pincher-grasp pretty quickly and was quite a happy girl being able to pick up her frijoloes one at a time. We still did some soft foods, but only those that naturally come like that, like avocados or oatmeal. But chicken, carrots, watermelon– all big pieces.

Then right around 12 months she started wanting to do everything ALL.BY.HERSELF. Which is hard, especially when most 12 months old aren’t quite coordinated enough to scoop, and spoon and fork things by themselves. She also started refusing certain foods that she had always liked before. She would throw food when she got frustrated or squish it up in her hands. Let’s be honest, we were all a little frustrated. Since they say you should choose your battles, I knew I didn’t want eating to be a battle.

I would say my motto for baby feeding has been: easy and healthy. It’s actually kind of my motto for cooking in general. I also wanted to give Elena food that we ate. Partly because it seemed easier, and partly because it seemed healthier. Win, win no?

And can we just agree that there is nothing about feeding a baby is clean? The floor underneath her high chair and that white wall you see in the pictures is always kiiiiinda dirty. And I feel like one of us is always cleaning off her high chair tray. Thank you, Gerber!

Ok, so here is what has been working for us (at least for now, the 12-15 month stage):

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1) Make Eating Fun

In the long run, I want my daughter to have a healthy sense of eating and food. So if that means for now, we make food sometimes about play I am ok with that. I mean eating should be enjoyable, right? I think they key is having something different or an element of surprise. Sometimes it’s this doggie puppet, sometimes a monkey or sometimes just an extra fork 🙂 For whatever reason, when her doggie helps her eat her carrots it’s a hundred times more fun then I when I say, Elena eat your carrots. (Warning: choose something that can be easily washed. She’s been pretty good about knowing she can’t hold or touch these animals, but every now and then they get smeared with bean juice L

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2) The Beauty of the Dip

Have you ever seen your little one try to scoop out their yogurt with a spoon and then by the time they bring it to their mouth it’s all dripped off onto their bib. Yes? Like 1000 times, huh? Me too. Solution: Dipping. Again, long run I would love for my daughter to know how to use a spoon. One day she will, but in the mean time we do lots of dipping. Carrot sticks in hummus. Toast in yogurt. Chips in guacamole. You get the idea. Works best when the “dipping item” is cut long and skinny, like the size of your pinky finger. Elena is a pretty indpendant dipper now 🙂 Also, if I would have know about these  earlier I may have gotten one for her. Genius. Pure Genius!

 

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3) Freeze it

ok, so this probably only would work with yogurt. I mean who wants frozen guacamole?! I found in Elena’s effort to eat independently she loved when she could hold something and since she loved yogurt, I poured just regular old strawberry yogurt (no mixing, no adding- although you could make your own flavor with plan yogurt and fresh fruit- but remember my motto? Easy and Healthy 🙂 into ice cube trays, added a popsicle stick cut in half. And voilà yogurt “ice-creams” for days. This is a typical afternoon snack on our house.

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4) The Art of Turn Taking

ok, this one is not efficient or quick…so do it when you’re not trying to get out the door. Ironically, I have also found it’s one of the best! Maybe because so much of our little ones’ lives feels out of their control, and this give them some deciding and a sense of control in “feeding someone else.” So it started by just taking turns…I would say, “Elena’s turn!” and Elena would then feed me whatever she wanted from her tray (another reason to give kids something you would also want to eat). I mean she would literally put it in my mouth. And then I would say, “ok, Mama’s turn!” And then I would proceed to put whatever I choose in her little mouth. (this works well 90% of the time with food she already likes). I think she so enjoys the “game” of getting to feed someone else that now sometimes we also include a little Fisher Price person who was hijacked from may parents house. Elena likes to “pretend” to feed this little guy. And you know what, it works. She pretend puts food up to his mouth and then she feeds herself. Sometimes I try to turn the other way in the kitchen so she doesn’t catch me looking at her and stop. It’s pretty cute. She’s eating independantly and the Fisher Price guy is easily washable.

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5) Use Real Glass

So I would have never ever thought this would a good idea. But one day will skyping with my sister, who is a Montessori preschool teacher, she saw Elena trying to unefficiently “spoon-up” (is that a word?) her smoothies. She told me, try giving it to her in a clear glass. Not a plastic sippy cup, but a real glass, GLASS. She said they start their toddler class drinking water or juice from real little shot glass so they can learn to use a cup and—this is key– SEE what they are drinking and how much is in the glass. She said kids learn really quickly not to throw it because it will break. I was so hesitant, but decided it was worth a try. To date we have had no broken glasses (although a few close calls and I do stay right by her when she’s using them). I now put her smoothie in a clear 4 oz. glass each morning and she just drinks it! It still amazes me. Sometimes we’ll do yogurt in the glass as well, because ya know the whole spoon-bib-yogurt mess.

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6) Soups

I guess I never really thought of soups as toddler friendly food, but I make a lot of soup so Elena has learned to eat it. And it really is pretty independent eating food. I find soups with chucks of veggies and meat or beans work better than pureed soups, but that’s probably cause Elena has never really loved purees. Usually I set one of our cute Anthro mini bowls on her tray with soup in it. Elena pulls out all of the veggies and/or chicken with her fingers and eats those and then drinks the broth! (She must have learned that from the smoothie drinking?!)  If you can get your little one to drink the broth then there are so many good nutrients in there depending what vegetable or bone/chicken broth you use. I try to cut up the vegetables into sizes Elena can eat with her fingers or stab with a fork, so usually soft but not mushy works well. I’m usually amazed at what she’ll eat in soup, that she would never eat raw. Carrots, celery, zucchini, peppers, onions, kale, etc. Maybe because soup has more flavor than just raw veggies? Makes sense. Our current favorites are this Tortilla Soup Recipe and this other chicken veggie soup that I make. 

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7) Accept The Mystery

Elena hasn’t figured out how to use a straw. She still refuses egg. I’ve tried it scrambled, hard-boiled, fried…she can even pick it out when we hide it in somewhere and CHEESE! The girl doesn’t like cheese. I am not sure why? She has no problem digesting egg when it’s in muffins or baked goods and she does fine with dairy as far as I can tell. So it’s a mystery to me. But I have learned that part of my job, as a parent is to accept who she is and her preferences. I can keep trying to introduce her to new foods or make her try it, but at some point I’ve learned it worth repeating “ok, for this season my child doesn’t like ____ (and fill in the blank) and then let it go. It’s not worth stressing over or trying to figure it out.

So, there you have it 7 tricks that have been working for us. Now go enjoy lunch by yourself… if your little one like mine is napping! 🙂

Are you feeding little people at your house? What’s your favorite trick? I love to learn from other parents 🙂 When did you start doing family dinners where kids actually stayed sitting for more than 10 minutes?

{note: please realize I am neither a doctor nor an expert child feeder, just a mom trying feed healthy foods to her kid. If your child has allergies or any kind of food sensitivities please follow whatever advice you’ve received from your medical professional. Baby feeding can be so stressful and hard especially if you child is not gaining weight or has food sensory issues. Those are separate issues that I am not qualified to address here.}

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