I have a two-year-old who will eat anything but meat.

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I have a two-year-old who will eat anything but meat. If she does eat meat, all she’ll eat is chicken nuggets from McDonald’s. I have tried to cut out the sweets in her diet but she still only ever wants to eat her sweets. My question: how do I try and get her to eat healthier all around?

When I server her veggies she doesn’t really touch them she just goes straight for her potatoes or macaroni and cheese. What advice can you give me for a picky two-year-old?

As a parent, I empathize with feeding toddlers. The optimal approach is to offer your daughter small portions of what the rest of the family is eating at a meal. Then when you eat a meal together, she will see you eating the same food. Toddlers learn that they have power over what they eat by refusing then seeing their parent’s reactions.

Give her a reasonable amount of time to eat. Children will eat when they are hungry and if you continue to offer your daughter a variety of meat, poultry, and fish as well as raw veggies, she will eat. This is in addition to offering her whole grains, dairy, fruit, and healthy fats.

Offer your daughter food every 2 to 3 hours as her stomach is small and can’t hold a lot of food. When more food ends up outside a toddler than inside their mouth, they are usually full.

Research has shown that fathers are the vegetable influencers.  If dad eats vegetables while smiling, children are more likely to eat vegetables. In caveman days, parents eating a food taught a child what foods were safe to eat. Sounds ironic, but the same is true now.

Most children prefer raw veggies instead of cooked as they often have a stronger flavor. Also, raw veggies are crunchy texture as opposed to mushy veggies.

Potatoes are a vegetable that is packed with vitamins and minerals. I hope by potatoes you were not referring to French Fries. Most kids like mashed potatoes.

Regarding macaroni and cheese, do you make it from a recipe or a box? If you make mac and cheese from a recipe, you can control what is in it. Pasta, milk, and cheese are nutritious but kids don’t need a lot of salt and processed packaged foods are often high in salt.

Second, your daughter doesn’t drive and doesn’t have her own money to buy sweets. Parents are the food gatekeepers. The tricky thing is grocery shopping to avoid the aisles with sweets.  Keeping your daughter in the grocery cart seat will help limit her putting food into your cart or having a meltdown in a store when she sees some sweets she wants. Try substituting fresh fruits which are sweet at the end of a meal or as a snack. Start with small portions and remember to cut grapes in half as children can choke on grapes as well as hotdogs (not my favorite food for kids).

Have you thought of offering dry cereal as a snack?  Cheerios and shaped, formed cereals not high in sugar would be a healthy choice. Now that the FDA has required added sugars on food labels, avoid cereals with more than 4 grams (1 teaspoon) of added sugar.

You can buy chicken nuggets in the grocery store and don’t necessarily have to buy them at a fast food restaurant.  While it is not ideal for a child to only eat chicken nuggets, at least she is eating protein. Have you tried fish sticks?  Again not ideal, but a different source of protein.

Involve your daughter in putting away food when you come home from the grocery store based on her ability (dry packages are the best to start). Also, involve your daughter in some food preparation away from sharp knives and hot stoves tho. Research has shown that children who are involved in food preparation are more likely to eat food they help prepare.

Typically toddlers prefer single foods rather than food mixtures and sometimes they don’t like food on their plate touching. A toddler serving size is about a tablespoon and they can become overwhelmed by large portions.

Lastly, have patience. Children learn that mom or dad may cave in after begging 9 times and will say yes on the 10th plead. She will eventually learn that the first no means no if you consistently say no to her pleading.  Be consistent in offering the food your family is eating and not making something different for your daughter.  You are not operating a restaurant.