Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Toddlerhood 101: Food

I have been enjoying Kacy's "Momness" series and Lisa's "How to Hate Cleaning LESS" series so much that I wanted to join in with my own series. It's hard to choose just ONE thing I am an expert on, so I decided to talk about something that is completely consuming my every waking (and often sleeping) moment: Toddlerhood. You see, I have been dealing with toddlers for several years. Hazel is 5, and is just now "out of the woods," while Ruby is 2 1/2 and is in the thick of the forest, so to speak. Holden was a toddler 7 years ago, but the scars from his antics remain. So, I have some ideas about how to navigate the toddler years (and they are YEARS) without wanting to die (too often).

I'd like to start by discussing food, because it seems like such a difficult issue when you have a two-year-old. The one rule you should live by is NEVER MAKE FOOD A BATTLE. Toddlers can smell your fear. They can sense tension and struggle very powerfully; therefore, the minute you choose food as your battle, you have already lost. They will win every time, because can you really force a toddler to eat something? Do you really want to? Don't ever make a big deal out of food. Food should never be an issue between you and your loved ones.

Another food concern is the lack thereof in a toddler's diet. You wonder how your two-year-old can stay alive on her diet of detritus from the kitchen floor and chocolate chips. A doctor once reassured me to look at my child's diet in terms of weeks rather than days. So, if your little one is getting some regular meals in each week, then you are golden. Let go of your fear that your toddler is starving.

Here are some other food-related tips to help you cope with your toddler:

1. Don't buy sippy cups with complicated valves that you have to take out of the lid and clean. These get lost, get gunked up with chocolate milk, and are a huge pain. Instead, buy inexpensive take-along cups like this:

These are actually meant to be thrown away, so you don't have to feel too guilty when you find one under the couch that has curdled milk in it. Just toss it in the trash! Also, encourage your toddler to use normal cups so they won't be judged harshly by judgmental nursery leaders, but if you want your life to be easier, use sippies most of the time.

2. Allow snacking. I know you're not supposed to snack between meals, but toddlers usually won't be interested in whatever "meal" you have in mind--chicken piccata, coconut curry, beef stroganoff, etc. So just allow them to snack. Put relatively healthy snacks within their reach and allow them to get their own. One thing Kacy taught me is to have a "snack basket" in the fridge. You can fill it with grapes, string cheese, apples, fruit snacks, crackers, whatever your little dude likes. Control is so important to your toddler. This gives it to them. You control what goes in the basket, but they control what they eat from it and when. At least this way they are getting some food. Also, if they want the red cup but you gave them the blue cup, just pour the stuff from the red cup into the blue cup. It's important to them and it doesn't really cost you that much. It takes more energy to have a "what difference does the color of the cup make!" argument than to just switch cups.

3. Never let a well-meaning but judgmental person make you feel bad about your child's eating habits. Comments like "she didn't drink all her milk!" or "all he's had today is fruit snacks" should roll right off your back. These people don't understand what it's like. Generally, it's been too long since they had a toddler and they raised their toddler in the era of spanking and brute force. So, let it go.

4. Chocolate milk is okay if your toddler won't drink normal milk. But don't suggest chocolate milk unless you HAVE to. Put it off as long as possible, because once your two-year-old discovers chocolate milk, there is NO TURNING BACK. Same with juice. Crystal Light can be a good juice substitute but I had to stop giving it because it turned Ruby's poo astro-turf green. What's up with that?

5. When you make dinner, make whatever you and your spouse and older children like. Don't be at the mercy of the picky eaters in your family (I have three of them). Instead, try to have one element of the meal that everyone will enjoy. Oddly, my kids all love green beans (canned) cooked with a cube of beef bouillon. I just gave away my best cooking secret! In fact, we used to call beef bouillon "secret ingredient" when I was growing up. But anyway, have something like that, rice, apple slices, cheese, plain noodles, whatever, that everyone can eat. Keep exposing your kids to different foods, encouraging but not forcing them to try, and maybe eventually they will come around. It will take years. Be ready for that.

6. Don't forbid any food. Again, this causes battles and tantrums. Instead, if there is a food you feel like your toddler should never eat, never buy it. Avoid taking your two-year-old to the grocery store so they can't see it and beg for it. But if they ever do eat a Hostess Fruit Pie, don't make a huge deal out of it. Whatever you do, don't tell a toddler that a food is forbidden to them. That's just asking for trouble.

7. If you are really worried about vitamins and minerals, buy gummy vitamins for your toddler. These also work wonders for pregnant women who are too sick to take a normal prenatal vitamin. But that's another series.

8. Freeze gogurt and give it to your toddler as a popsicle. But it's also okay to give regular popsicles, too.

9. Remember that ice cream has calcium in it and there are worse things a toddler could eat.

10. Chicken nuggets and hot dogs have protein. Something like 1/4 a cup of craisins is the same as two servings of fruit. Pretzels are healthier than potato chips. Popcorn is a whole grain. Carrots dipped in ranch are a perfectly good way to eat vegetables.

The key is acting nonchalant about food. Believe me, it is not a battle you want to take on. Remember that tastes change and mature. And stick to the principle of moderation. And that is my best advice for feeding a toddler. Maybe I have so many ideas because I have rather toddler-like taste in food myself. What toddler tips do you have?


  1. I love it! I agree with viewing your kids' eating in terms of how they do over the course of a week rather than individual days. You sound sound like a pro; you should write a book!

  2. we are just embarking on the two year old phase here with june so this was very timely! although i totally gave june chocolate milk months ago and it really was a mistake. if the milk isn't colored, she won't go for it. :(

  3. oh and what about the mother's of OTHER toddlers that make comments about your toddler's eating? these aren't the old fuddy duds we're talking about. it can be tricky for sure!

  4. Too true, Erin. Those moms are my worst nightmare. I have yet to find a solution for dealing with them, other than talking badly about them behind their backs.

  5. Ahhhhh the era of spanking and brute force. I miss the good ole days.