There are over 1,500 books on Amazon about picky eating. 1500. This is obviously an issue that a lot of parents struggle with. In many of the groups that I’m in on Facebook, there are constantly questions, concerns, and comments about picky eating. Here are just a few:
“Is my toddler really not hungry, or just picky?”
“My 22 month old is VERY picky.”
“I don’t know what to do, my toddler has been extremely picky the last few months.”
“My toddler is super picky.”
“My 2 year old is suddenly very picky.”
“How do you get your toddler to eat veggies?”
“My child has become increasingly picky.”
“My picky toddler wants to eat nothing but ___.”
“My kid used to eat everything, now he’ll only eat ____.”
“I’m getting worried about my toddler’s extreme pickiness.”
Now, I am not a nutritionist. Nor am I a child development expert. Nor am I a doctor. I’m just another parent, trying to feed my kid! I’m going to offer you my perspective, which you are welcome to agree or disagree with. Maybe you’ll find it helpful. Maybe you’ll think I’m a dud. Either way, you’ll at least know that you aren’t alone in having a picky toddler!
Toddlers are notoriously picky when it comes to
food everything. FVB is no exception. If you follow us on Facebook, you probably notice that he often eats the same things over and over again. Favorites include:
- Hummus and crackers
- Melted Chao cheese on crackers with mustard
Do you notice that there are no vegetables on this list? And only one fruit? And that it’s basically made up of carbs? Well, this is life with a toddler. Vegan or not, toddlers/kids are just picky. According to Dr. Sears, “We have since learned that there are developmental reasons why kids between one and three years of age peck and poke at their food. After a year of rapid growth (the average one-year-old has tripled her birth weight), toddlers gain weight more slowly. So, of course, they need less food.” True….. but how much less? And should I be worried on days that FVB literally only eats toast with jelly and chex mix??? In short, I’ve concluded that no, I shouldn’t be worried. I’ve heard from countless sources that toddler nutrition should be looked at over the course of a week, not a day. Once I started thinking of FVB’s eating in terms of a week, I felt much better about what he actually is getting. (Also, FVB still nurses twice per day, so I always have breastmilk as a base line! Thank goodness for that!)
My (and hubs’) basic philosophy on food is that our job is to offer healthy food the majority of the time, and leave it up to FVB whether he eats it or not, and how much he chooses to eat. We never force or bribe him to eat, and we don’t reward eating with treats. We offer food roughly 5 times per day (three meals and two snacks), and we also rely on FVB to tell us when he is hungry, and what he wants to eat. We aren’t super strict, nor are we super permissive. He does eat unhealthy things now and then (hello Oreos), and I try not to freak out about it. Do I wish he ate more vegetables? Sure. Do I think that he will outgrow the eating habits he has now? Sure do!
Here are two examples of meal time that illustrate how we manage food.
- We sit down to dinner. I made lasagna roll ups. On FVB’s plate he has bread, a lasagna roll up, and pears. Upon seeing his plate, he shrieks “I DON’T LIKE THIS! I WANT DIFFERENT NOODLES!” To which I reply, “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” Then we sat down and started eating. He grumbled a little bit about the noodles, and decided to eat his pears and bread. After a few minutes he tried the lasagna. And proclaimed that he liked it. So there you go. No fight, no power struggle. Now, I COULD have gone into the kitchen and made him plain noodles with red sauce. But I had a sneaking suspicion that he would really like the lasagna once he tried it. I mean, it’s still pasta after all! And I was right. There are some situations where I DON’T force the issue, like the next scenario.
- We sit down to dinner. FVB has coconut rice, cashew-ginger tofu, broccoli, and grapes. FVB is luke warm about tofu, and broccoli is a hit or miss. Same with rice. This was definitely a “riskier” meal in terms of going outside of his comfort zone. There are days where he’s eaten 1 full cup of broccoli (dipped in sweet ‘n sour sauce), and many other days where he flat out refuses it. This is VERY typical toddler eating behavior. So, this meal was one that I was not going to push too much. He eats the grapes, then says “I don’t like this, I want hummus and crackers.” I debate in my head a while over whether or not to get him what he’s asked for, or push him to eat the meal that I made. In the end I decided to give him the crackers and hummus, after asking him if he’d like to try the meal on his plate.
I think it’s also important to note that, for every meal and snack BESIDES dinner, FVB is given choices. I typically ask him what he wants to eat for breakfast and lunch, and for snacks. I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to have one meal where the rules change and he has no choice but to eat what’s in front of him. Two, I think crackers, hummus, and fruit is a healthy meal. We eat multi grain crackers, hummus contains protein and fat (important for a growing toddler), and fruits are filled with essential nutrients. Also important to note, we are vegan, and I consider us to be pretty healthy in our food choices, but we aren’t as strict as many. We try to focus on whole foods as much as possible. We eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans/nuts. But we also eat processed stuff, like crackers, vegan cheeses, sour cream, and meat substitutes, and we use oil and sugar in our cooking and baking.
FVB is only 2.5. I imagine that as he gets older, we will start at least insisting that he try foods before proclaiming that he doesn’t like them, and will be a little more pushy about eating the meal that is served. But at this stage, I think that it’s important to meet kids where they are and to offer them choices that you are comfortable with. I’d rather focus on having him build a healthy relationship with food than on forcing him to eat something he doesn’t like (or doesn’t THINK that he likes). Also, 95% of the time he either tries what’s on his plate, or just eats what he wants off of it and then asks to get down and play. He RARELY asks for something different. So overall I feel certain that he’s getting what he needs through food and breastmilk combined, and that he is developing a healthy relationship with food and knows that he has a good amount of autonomy over what he eats.
OK, smells like my brownies are done baking, so I’m off to sneak a few bites before FVB wakes up! Hey, vegan mamas like treats, too =)