Getting Your Toddler to Eat Healthy Foods

Child 3: A Veggie-less Diet

The Eater: Addison Ragsdale, 20 months

Daily Food Intake

8:00 a.m.
2 oz. milk
3 oat bran dollar-size pancakes with maple syrup

10:00 a.m.
2 oz. apple juice with 4 oz. water

11:30 a.m.
2 oz. milk
1/2 peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread without crust

3:30 p.m.
1 mini-box Sun-Maid raisins (15 raisins)

7:00 p.m.
1/2 cup Uncle Ben's rice mixed with canned black beans and 1/2 fried egg
1/6 Granny Smith apple
6 oz. milk

Serving Tip
If your daily specials are being rejected, get creative with presentation and place food on your kid's favorite character plate.

Diet Makeover

What Mom Says: "I struggle to expand Addison's food preferences beyond peanut butter and jelly, pasta, and fruit," says Claudia Ragsdale, of Los Angeles. "I also worry if he's getting enough protein because he doesn't eat meat that often."

The Good News: Addison doesn't eat much meat or poultry, but he does get plenty of protein because he drinks about 2 cups of milk a day and he eats beans, cheese, and peanut butter. So take that concern off the plate. Although iron deficiency can be an issue when children don't eat enough meat, Addison gets iron from fortified cereal and beans. He also likes oranges, bananas, and apples, so he's getting a number of vitamins and minerals.

What to Improve: Addison averaged less than one serving of vegetables per day, leaving his intake of fiber, folate, and potassium on the low side. As with adults, kids need these nutrients to keep the heart and blood vessels healthy and functioning properly.

Realistic Solutions: Addison's mom can use his love of fruit to get in more nutrients and expand his tastes by exposing him to strawberries, mangoes, and papayas. She might also have an easier time getting him to try vegetables if she starts with the sweeter kinds, such as carrots, beets, and butternut squash. She should regularly offer them as well as snap peas, halved grape tomatoes, or sweet potatoes.

To persuade him to taste vegetables that aren't naturally sweet, his mom can get inventive by melting cheese on cauliflower or broccoli or dabbing brown sugar on roasted red peppers. She can also get creative with Addison by making shapes with veggies like asparagus or by putting them on his favorite character plate. She can also try incorporating vegetables into foods that Addison already eats. For example, because he likes pasta, she can puree or finely chop extra vegetables into the sauce. Or for a quick meal, she can buy a ready-made whole wheat pizza crust and hide the finely chopped vegetables underneath the cheese.

For Addison's snack, his mom can offer a vegetable with hummus or salsa. Toddlers love to dip, and it can get them to try something new.

What Worked: "He didn't like the mango I gave him, but he did end up eating some fish with mango sauce. I also added shredded carrots and minced broccoli into macaroni and cheese and he ate it all. Putting cheese on top of cauliflower worked like a charm too. At snack time, though, he only licked the low-fat ranch dip off the green beans and didn't actually eat the vegetable," says Ragsdale.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, July 2006.

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