“No! I don’t want GREEN BEANS!” professed my picky toddler.
Following Feeding Littles lead, I calmly explained that she didn’t have to eat the green beans if she didn’t want to--but I’d like her to try them. She still refused, and honestly, I felt defeated. Sound familiar?
As a baby, she used to eagerly gobble up broccoli, carrots and sweet potatoes like candy. Now, my picky toddler only wants the pasta, bread, cheese and crackers. Feeling concerned, I wondered how I was ever going to get her to voluntarily eat vegetables. Don’t get me wrong, I can dish out a mean dessert bribe with the best of them, but I genuinely want her to develop a love for vegetables. That starts with eating them steamed, roasted or sautéed (as opposed to snuck into a smoothie), but I can’t exactly force feed them to her.
Over the last few months, I’ve experimented with different ways to encourage my daughter to try the green on her plate. Here are a few takeaways from my experience so far, as well as some advice from our pediatrician.
Photo credit: @simplyy.suarez
1. Start with a Realistic Goal for your Picky Toddler
Whether detecting desperation from parents, or simply not enjoying the taste or texture, it’s really common for young children to dismiss vegetables. Beyond anecdotal evidence, there are biology studies that explain why kids gravitate towards sugar and carbs.
I’ve reduced my expectations from wanting her to eat a full serving, to being satisfied if she eats one pea. Seriously. It’s baby steps here people, and if one measly pea makes it into her system on a Tuesday night, I’ll call it a win.
2. Beware Portion Distortion
Feeding Littles warns that big portions can be intimidating to little eaters. What might look like a reasonable portion to you may actually be way too big for your toddler. So big that a picky toddler won’t even attempt to eat it. Start small, offering two or three green beans instead of five. If she takes it down like a champ, you can always add more later.
Photo Credit @livin.mivida.ale
3. Your Picky Toddler Might Prefer to Call it a Snack
For whatever reason, my daughter gets irrationally mad when I say “It’s time for lunch!” or, “Are you hungry for dinner?” She frowns and says “No lunch. No dinner. I want a snack!” My best guess is that because snacks are generally tasty treats, like goldfish or string cheese, toddlers think snacks are superior to well-balanced meals.
Look, eventually she will use proper terms for meal times. For now? If referring to meals as a snack avoids a meltdown, I’ll call it a snack. Do what it takes, mama.
One additional idea, consider bringing that "snack" to an unusual location. Sometimes a change of scenery makes eating things more fun and interesting. Dinner outside, at the park, or watching a movie can make everything feel a bit more special. It can be helpful to have a highchair that can be easily moved to wherever you would like to snack.
4. “Follow the Leader” Trick
When really desperate for her to ingest a vegetable, my husband and I resort to saying: “Look - mommy and daddy are eating cauliflower.”
This “follow-the-leader” trick is our go-to move at the dinner table. We’ve found that if she’s refusing to touch the cauliflower, she is more willing to try it if we show her we’re enjoying eating the same thing from our plates. When she eventually eats it? We don’t make a huge deal about it, but simply thank her for trying it.
5. Go Heavy on the Veggies
At her last well check, I asked our trusted pediatrician for advice. He validated that it is normal for toddlers to refuse vegetables, but encouraged me to continue helping her establish healthy eating habits. His biggest tips?
- Serve the food with the most nutritional value first and keep the starchy “favorite foods” off the table. When truly hungry, children will generally eat what is offered to them. If all of the food is refused, let your child experiment with his hunger and fullness cues. I know we don’t want our babies to go to bed “hungry,” but it’s perfectly fine on occasion when your toddler skips dinner altogether.
- Don’t cave and provide food you know they’ll eat, like pouch yogurts or PB&J. Don’t be a short order cook. If they refuse to eat what the rest of the family is eating, then they refuse to eat it. Again, don’t worry if your picky toddler makes the choice to skip dinner. It’s not going to harm them in the long run, but giving into their whims will.
Do you have a reformed picky eater? Are vegetables now your toddlers’ friend, not foe? Please share, because I am still learning and will take all the tips I can get.
Featured Photo Credit @keepingup_withemme
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Katie McCall is a lifestyle portrait photographer, content strategist, and producer based in San Antonio, Texas. When she isn’t behind a camera or laptop, she's exploring the world with her husband, darling one-year-old daughter and tiny pup. If you’d like, please follow their adventures on Instagram (@hersideproject)!