Posted by Duff

I’m definitely no expert on toddlers. Total wing job going on here.

But when it comes to meal time wars, and how to deal with them, all my research and experience turned up the same suggestions:

This is a battle you don’t want to pick. You won’t win.  Not long term, anyway.

Toddlers have so little control over their lives, and are no doubt tweaked by this fact, which is why they reserve some of their best rebellions for the dinner table. They’ve got your attention, your concern, and better yet, ammo.

So what are you do when your toddler finally realizes s/he has a say in what they won’t eat, if nothing else?

The Dervish has always had a healthy appetite, so short of a few illnesses or teething phases that made eating painful, she wasn’t the type to regularly forego meals and make me a nervous wreck.

However,  I can tell you that once she got over the novelty of self-feeding vegetables, she went on a year long strike. I’d chop them up or shred them into things she liked, and she’d remove the offending pieces from her mouth, mid-chew. She may have eaten five servings of vegetables her entire second year. She’s okay, I promise.

Unless your pediatrician expresses concern (in which case, s/he will give you qualified suggestions on how to proceed), your own Dervish will be okay, too.  In the meantime, here are a few things you can try:

  • Don’t beg. Offer food, engage your child in family meals, but s/he shouldn’t know you’re as concerned as you are, lest you engage in a power play. You’ve never seen jaws clamp shut so fast.
  • Don’t prepare special meals unless the family meal is too difficult for your toddler to chew/digest. If it’s something your child has never liked before, still offer a little bit with the rest of his/her meal. The Dervish didn’t like eggs for the first 14 months we offered them. Now she can out-egg her father.
  • Try adding a small portion of a ‘stand-by’ food you know your child can’t resist. A few bites of that food may kick start the meal into action.
  • Count on hero worship. If you child sees you or another family member that s/he looks up to eating green beans and enjoying them, that just might lead to a bite or two. You might even mention that a favorite character from a book or show likes the food you want your child to try. Not finish, just try.
  • As George Carlin would say, Calm down, have some dip.  On the side, that is. Lots of kids like to dunk, even if they’re dunking something healthy into something reasonably healthy. (If you’re child is the type to use carrots as a spoon for dressing, you might want to rethink this).

I say this after turning a blind eye to the yogurt and apple juice soup The Dervish created yesterday. She asked for the yogurt. She asked for the juice. (She used the top of the empty yogurt container to spoon apple juice off her tray and into her mouth.) Somehow, she didn’t get any on the floor. Somehow, I cleaned it up without gagging when she was done. And then she settled down to eat some fish, calmly.

Some may say I handled this inappropriately. That she wasted food. That she made a mess. But my game plan, when starting that meal, was for her to eat the fish.

Mission accomplished.

For suggestions on how to incorporate healthy foods into tastier favorites, you might try The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. Either way, experts suggest offering portions of the ‘snuck in’ foods alongside your creations, for exposure to them, even if they aren’t eaten.