Dear Mr. Dad: My toddler used to eat pretty much everything. But recently she’s become incredibly picky. It’s gotten so bad that I can’t get her to eat anything but mac and cheese, noodles and rice.
Is there anything I can do to get her back to a healthier diet?
A: What you’re describing is a completely normal phase for kids. And every parent has had plenty of experience with toddlers’ dramatic pronouncements about what they will or won’t eat. The good news is that somehow or other, most kids end up getting enough of whatever it is they need to run around like maniacs all day long. But that doesn’t mean you should let her eat nothing but the white food group. Your daughter is old enough to understand that we all need a variety of foods – fruits, veggies, protein, and yes, an occasional cookie. Here are some ways to help her get a more balanced diet:
• Give her plenty of choices, but no “Yes” or “No” possibilities. Offering beans or peas is better than asking whether or not she wants beans.
• Next time you’re at the grocery store, have her pick a fruit or veggie no one in the family has had before.
• If there’s a food she despises, like broccoli, don’t push it. Instead, choose a nutritious replacement, like creamed spinach.
• Kids love to dunk, so include ranch dressing for carrots, melted cheese for green beans, yogurt or peanut butter for fruit. But make sure she isn’t just licking off the dip.
• Juice contains a lot of sugar so stick with mostly water or milk. When you do serve juice, make sure it’s 100 percent and dilute it by adding half water.
• Insist that she try two bites of everything – even new foods. If she learns it’s a firm rule, she’ll eventually get used to the idea.
• Little kids tend to prefer crunchy things. Most of the time when they reject a food it’s because of the texture, not the taste.
• If possible, visit a farm so your daughter can see where produce comes from. That might make it more interesting, especially if she can pick her own.
• It’s easy to blend healthy ingredients into a smoothie. Throw in fruit (fresh or frozen), yogurt, ice and perhaps a little tofu or protein powder.
• Get her involved in food prep tasks. Baking muffins is great fun. And it gives you a chance to demonstrate that something can be delicious even if it contains carrots or zucchini.
• Swap your regular pasta and noodles for whole wheat. The cheese and tomato sauces will cover up the difference in taste. You can slip all sorts of other nutritious things into tomato sauce, and most kids will down plenty of fruit if it’s in their oatmeal or cereal.
• Your daughter is watching and will eat what you do, so set a good example. And take some comfort in the fact that kids get more adventurous with age.