Between the ages of 2 and 3 my excellent eater started to get pickier. The baby who once vacuumed up broccoli turned into a toddler who suddenly turned up her nose at anything green.
Rest assured, this is completely normal, and chances are it's also temporary. Here are a few tips for coping with this stressful time from my new cookbook Real Baby Food: Easy, All-Natural Meals for Your Baby and Toddler.
First, why does this pickiness rear its ugly head at all? Around this age children are growing less quickly so their bodies don't need as much energy, and they are naturally less hungry. Second, also around this time many children develop neophobia, or a fear of new foods. Scientists tell us this is a legacy of our caveman days when tots that ran around trying any green leaf under the sun were at risk for poisoning.
So, take comfort in the fact that this is a normal stage. Most kids become more adventurous again around age 4 or 5.
In the meantime follow these Do's and Don'ts to make mealtime as painless as possible:
Do Eat Together: Serve yourself and your child the same meal. Let him see you enjoying all the healthy foods on your plate.
Don't Force: Never pressure your child to try something or clear her plate or punish her if she doesn't. This will only make mealtime more fraught and what should be a pleasant activity a battle. When your child is a little older you can consider making a family-wide "one polite bite" guideline, but not at this stage and only then if you are prepared to back off and carry on with the meal if your child refuses. Mealtime should never develop into a stand-off at the Toddler Corral.
Do Mix It Up: At each meal be sure to serve at least one thing you know your child will eat, like whole wheat bread, a fruit salad, or milk. But after that don't cater the whole meal to a 2 year-old's tastes. Serve a well-rounded delicious meal you'll enjoy eating. The point here is to teach your child to eat within the family structure, not to make the rest of your family eat like a toddler.
Don't Reward: Does your spouse give you a high five and clap his hands when you try the sweet potato salad? No. Because it's dinner and what we do at dinner is eat. If your child tries something new don't make a big deal out of it. Also, don't promise your child a treat (food or otherwise) if she eats her meal. Then the act of eating will seem like an ordeal only to be tolerated to get to the "good stuff".
Do Deconstruct It: As often as possible give your child the chance to pick and choose what she wants to eat from what's on the table. If a hearty salad is on the menu, like this Fajita Salad from Real Baby Food, let your little one decide which ingredients will go on her plate. Even the option to sprinkle on a garnish or not is empowering.
Don't Give Up: Your child may reject cauliflower over and over and over (and over). But, don't stop serving it. Prepare it in different ways – roast it, mash it with cheese, puree it as a soup. Enjoy it yourself and eventually (it's true!) he will try it again. If you stop serving foods on his no-go list, he'll never have the chance to be adventurous when he decides he's ready.
Do Do Your Job: And then let your child do his. Your task is to provide healthy, tasty foods at mealtime, and your child's job is to choose what and how much to eat. Period.
Do Make it Taste Good: Which would you rather eat: plain, over-boiled broccoli or savory, crispy broccoli roasted with olive oil and sprinkled with salt? Guess which one your child is more likely to enjoy as well.
Don't Worry: Remember your mission as a parent is to teach your child to become a healthy eater over the long-term, not to get him to eat his pork chop on a Tuesday night.
Image courtesy of Lauren Volo