Navigating Nutrition with Picky-Eating Toddlers

It came as no surprise to me that my child wants to be picky like her mommy & daddy. My husband and I are the blandest eaters ever! Like, if we order chicken sandwiches or burgers at a restaurant, all we want on it is cheese and bacon: no condiments, no lettuce, no tomato, no onions, and none of that other nasty nonsense! Despite our pickiness and what I like to call our parents’ failures to culture our palates, we are determined to get Squally Muffin to try new foods and eat a much larger, more normal variety of foods than us.

Lucky for me, my sister, babysitter, and blog manager has a more cultured palate than I and therefore gives us an outlet to encourage Lariah to try new foods without being wasteful! Thanks to my sister, Muffin has tried tomatoes, mushrooms, and even Lucky Charms, which aren’t at all healthy, but it’s a start to expanding her preferences from French fries and chicken nuggets!

The thing about trying to get toddlers to eat is that you can only do so much. I hear of and have seen people trying to force their toddlers to eat and all it does is encourage their dislike for those foods and makes them act all crazy and fall out and causes an endless spiral of blah blah crazy BLAH. My sister likes to trick Lariah into eating sometimes by sticking the spoon in her mouth when she’s about to scream and surprisingly, that works for them, although I must admit I’m not the biggest fan of the method. Lori has successfully gotten Lariah to eat a much larger variety of food than I have! Honestly, I couldn’t even get Lariah to USE a spoon let alone eat anything off it, but I come home from work and see Lariah eating cereal with whole milk with her TT and I’m in shock! It’s crazy. I say all of that to say this, if you have a method to get them to try new foods that isn’t traumatizing, more power to you! I’d greatly appreciate the tip being passed along to me!

But for us moms, daddies, and caretakers who struggle to get our babies to eat stuff that we know they don’t want; fear not, as long as your baby is still growing and gaining weight. My personal saving-grace is the fact that Muffin is still breastfeeding. Now, this late in the breastfeeding game, her milk is by no means a cure-all for not wanting to eat anything else, but at least I know she’s never starving when she is throwing her strawberries and pretzels in the grass or trying to feed them to the cat. One of the hardest parts about being a parent to me is how easy it is to find something new to be guilty about. I’ve found that following “traditional” feeding methods don’t work for us. She resents sitting still to eat; she likes to walk around and multitask. She doesn’t like to eat on a schedule, so sometimes I’ll sit her breakfast out at 8 and she won’t finish it until 12 or later, but she’s been slowly nibbling all day in between singing, watching tv, reading books, and playing!

Does letting her “free feed” as we call it in the veterinary world make life more difficult in some other aspects? ABSOLUTELY. Going out to eat with her is a nightmare most times if we try to force her to sit in a high chair and eat like an adult. We’ve learned to compromise on these things and let our toddler BE a toddler. We start her in her high chair, but if she wants to get down, we let her do that. Squally is a super social child, so she wants to go say hi to other people in the restaurant, so we LET her do that. Most times, people are amazed at how sweet she is and enjoy her company. She’ll even sit with other people and play sometimes and then come back. Is it ideal and is it conventional? Nope, not at all, but it works for us. We get to eat our food while its hot and she gets to enjoy socializing with new people and not screaming her head off. The moral of the story is that we can still go out to eat and enjoy ourselves and she still eats. Lariah still eats and gets what she needs nutritionally, despite the many panic attacks I may have when she doesn’t eat all of her food right after I give it to her!

Lariah hasn’t been a truly “scheduled” child since we made our move to Knoxville almost a year ago now. My husband’s work schedule is just as fleeting and changing as mine. My schedule with veterinary school is ridiculous and although we could definitely put her on a more regular schedule, we don’t see the point when we can’t guarantee a normal amount of consistency with it.

For that reason, we just let her do her thing and that works best for us. Yes, she still has some sort of a schedule because she still has her kindermusik and gymnastics classes to attend at regular intervals, but outside of that, we just play it by ear. I find that its less stressful for me and everyone else too because I tend to get super meticulous and it’s a pain for everybody. So when it comes down to eating, Lariah is almost 21 months old and is getting better and better at deciphering her different feelings a emotions. We’re more than okay with giving her the autonomy that she wants to eat when she feels like it and we like to give her several options about what she wants to eat. I lay it all out of the table in the morning before I leave and she just picks and chooses what she wants from it as the day progresses. She eats like a little bird, but she’s eating and that’s what’s most important!

I tell a couple of my fellow mom friends with ravenous eaters that I’m jealous of how easy it is for them to get their babies to eat, but they have their own struggles associated with that too. You have to provide food for those hungry, hungry hippos and while my issue is usually food spoiling or having to be frozen because she takes so long to eat it, their issue is having to continuously buy more food because baby got appetite! The point is, we all have our parenting struggles with feeding these toddlers, but we need not be alarmed if our babies are still active, happy, and growing!

Of course, there are recommended amounts of each food group that your little one should be eating. Isn’t the most important part of toddler nutrition? Eh, yes and no. While it’s important to make sure they are eating each of these food groups, its very difficult to meal plan based on that and get your child to eat it! So for reference sake, here is a link to a pretty good website discussing what your baby should be eating and how much.

For me, it’s not as important to try to meet these portion guidelines. As they say, fed is best. I use that more as a long term goal of the portions of types of foods that I would like to get Squally to eat in a typical day. Are we there yet? Not, not even. We’re severely lacking in the grain department and very limited when it comes to veggies, but as we continue to expand Lariah’s palate, we plan to get there! At 21 months, Lariah still sometimes gets baby

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