How and What [Snack] Food We Got Our Picky [Nearly Vegan] Toddler To Eat
The other week I listened to a holistic doctor lecture me about how my family’s (nearly) vegan diet was a terrible idea. *I say nearly-vegan because we eat honey, and save the obvious animal products of meat/dairy/eggs for holidays and rare occasions. It was my first experience with any sort of non-mainstream doctor. I voiced concern about my toddlers extreme picky eating habits and how she seems more hyper compared to her peers. Instead of respecting and offering choices within our current diet, she advised me to help my toddler’s picky eating by slathering everything in butter and to calm her hyperactivity by feeding her meat. I don’t have a photographic memory, and I’m not good at confrontation and debate. My best defense is “Look lady, I didn’t write down all the facts/stats/explanations (but apparently I should have), but I can tell you that without a doubt after all my research, thought, and testing, this diet is what works best for me and my family at this time.” Apparently that argument isn’t good enough to stop someone from handing you a pamphlet and the name of the nearest meat farm.
After I calmed down (with vegetarian Indian take out food) I tried really really hard to put down my my defensive wall, cool my simmering anger, and think if there was anything I could take away from our meeting. One comment in particular really stood out to me. When I tried to defend the nutritional value of a plant-based diet, she was quick to point out, “but your daughter isn’t eating it.” She was right, she got me there. My husband and I may be sitting down to a colorful and nutritionally balanced dinner, but if my daughter will only touch plain pasta then her diet is failing.
Here is what I came up with:
- My 3 year old’s picky eating habits are causing her to not eat a large variety of foods=lower nutrition=poor immune system and attention span.
- She probably eats too much grain, which has been known to increase hyper activity for some people. (she loves plain pasta, plain rice, plain bread, etc)
- I need to find a way to encourage her to try and to eat more foods.
I need to write down the facts/stats/explanations of why we down consume a lot of animal products and compile a pamphlet I can hand out
I’m not going to now explain and defend (ahem, lecture) you all about why we don’t eat meat. I would never be so arrogant to assume that the same diet is the best for both our families, nor will I claim that only I am right, and that I can never learn something new. Instead here is how we got our very picky, never try something new, toddler to eat more food (though her favorite is still plain pasta). The secret lies as much in the method, as in the what.
HOW We Got Our Picky Toddler To Begin To Eat Food
Five methods. Try one, try them all, try whatever combo works for you. # 1, 4, & 5 were most successful in my house.
- Let them “help” you cook dinner. Just the thought of this made me pause and get a glass of wine. A patience testing task, because it’s not as fun and simple as cookies. Yet it’s worth it because the point here is that my kid see’s all the individual ingredients, and then like baking cookies, wants to taste them all. Think raw veggies, beans, sauces, grains, etc. After a few cooking sessions my toddler will now come up while I’m cooking to ask for some of the ingredients and will wander off with a cup of beans, or a plate of carrots, etc. Sure sometimes that means she won’t eat a ton of dinner, but I’m so damn happy she ate a vegetable at some point in the day, that I don’t care.
- Before the final “mix it all together” dinner step, set out a plate of individual ingredients. This works for us on nights where it’s a stir-fry type dish. I find that my toddler will eat beans, broccoli, and rice all separate, but mix it together with some sauce, and oh no, no, no, NO worst dinner ever. So rather than make her a separate meal (which I refuse to do) I just pull own parts of the current meal and put them in individual (not touching of course) piles on her plate.
- Eat with them in family dinner style. I have this parrot, that refuses to try any new food unless you stand in front of him and eat it first. It’s like he think’s I’m trying to poison him and I must first prove I’m not. My toddler is very similar. Not a guarantee of course that if mom doesn’t die, it must be good and will get eaten, but my odds are improved if we all eat together. We also have the rule, that if you don’t want to eat, you have to sit at the table in our company, until everyone is done eating. Sometimes this will result in them picking at their food in boredom.
- Less sugar in the long run. This fall my husband and I decided to try dramatically lowering our sugar intake. You can read all about it in my post: What Happened When We Quit Sugar and Caffeine For One Month. While we noticed changes in our physical and emotional self as early as 2 weeks, it took longer for us to really notice a change in our kids. By 4 weeks the kids switched from nagging us for candy/cookies/processed snacks, to hounding us for fruits like bananas, clementines, grapes. By 6 weeks I noticed a definite difference in my toddlers willingness to try new foods. Her odds of liking them were higher, and she began to eat more.
- Independent choices. Around 2 1/2 my toddler hit the “I can do it all by myself” stage. Little miss independent. Armed with determination and stubbornness she seemed as if there was nothing she couldn’t master, including opening the refrigerator door. So, the best idea ever, we placed a shallow box/tray in a corner of the fridge and told her that anything on that tray, she could eat, anytime she wanted. I took her to the store and had her try out different jar/lid combos for what she could open on her own, brought them home, and filled them up. Bingo. Something about her being able to independently get the food and having “control” of the choices, has made her WAY more receptive to trying and eating healthy foods. For added bonus she’ll also share with her little sister, who is then more receptive (see #3). For the parent this method has caused a pleasant reduction in the number of “MOM RIGHT NNOOWWW!!” demands all day long. Here are the rules: only put in foods you’re OK with them eating..possibly in exchange for some lunch and/or dinner. Don’t refill foods, until the majority of the other options are gone (though to be honest this isn’t something I’ve had issues with yet). **For containers I found a stack of small glass bowls with plastic lids by Anchor Hocking-which fit my less plastic, more made in USA goals. I’ve found them and other good container ideas at Christmas Tree Shop, Target, and Kmart.
- If at first you don’t succeed….I heard on the radio the other day that it takes kids something like 12-15 tries before they might like a food, but that most parents give up after 3 tries. So keep on offering! They might surprise you one day.
WHAT [Snack] Foods We Got Our Picky Toddler To Eat
- Black Olives-canned, seedless, whole or sliced.
- Carrots (strangely better odds if only pealed and NOT cut up).
- Hummus, which is pretty much pureed chickpeas so it’s a win. Served with carrots or those thin pretzels. Store hummus can get pricey but it’s easy to make yourself if you have a food processor/blender. My advice is to try making it yourself first so that you’re not compared to the store kind.
- Black and Kidney beans. Canned or freshly cooked. If canned, rinsing them under hot water to warm them up helped odds.
- Chick peas. Cooked, canned, hot, or cold. Kept these separate from #5 because she’ll often eat them cold. Sometimes she’ll even amuse herself peeling the thin casing off before eating (see #9 comments). On my to-do list is to try roasting these. I’ve heard they are great that way.
- Nuts-raw, unsalted, unroasted, almond, peanut, walnut, cashew, pecan. To up your odds, try peanuts first, then almonds.
- Sunflower seeds (raw, unsalted).
- IN-SHELL peanuts and sunflower seeds. My toddler doesn’t sit still even when eating, therefore food that keeps her hands busy are AMAZING. She LOVES to sit and tedious pick the food out of the shells. My house might look like a bar floor afterwards, but chances are it kept her busy for a while so I don’t care.
- Edamame-In-shell. See comments to #9. Another favorite found in the freezer section, just thaw in hot water and you’re good to go.
- Lupini Beans-I never knew these existed until about 6 months ago. You’ll find these protein packed guys in the Italian section of your grocery store, near the jarred olives and the polenta. Like edamame they have a shell to peel first or spit out later, another reason my kid loves them (see #9 comments).
- FROZEN peas and corn. I discovered this over the summer. Easiest prep work ever…open bag of frozen food…dumb on plate…walk away. Thawed peas are hit or miss depending on the day.
- Canned baby corn. “Awe look at the cute baby corn!” Gone.
- Cherry tomatoes. I have Daniel Tiger to thank for this one, who calls them “squirty tomatoes”.
- Clementines. More specifically the Halo Clementine brand because they are sweeter, softer, and easier to peel. Other brands must have tougher fiber because those my kids will only suck out the juice and spit out the rest. Halo’s they’ll eat all. To avoid peeling them for my kids, I’ll peel off a penny sized chunk of rind to give them starting place.
- Bananas. Show your kids how to peel them from the opposite end that you were normally taught. Significantly easier just to rip off the bottom, plus that’s apparently how monkey’s eat them too.
- Plain rice cakes with peanut butter (like a sandwich).
- Seitan. A protein packed “dough” or “meat substitute” more common in vegan dishes. Very easy to make yourself with just vital wheat gluten flour and broth. I just cut up small chunks. Something my kids discovered they liked while helping to make chili one night.
- Quinoa. Another great protein source. Similar to rice but way faster to cook. My toddler will sit a eat a whole bowl of it (plain of course though). As babies I would mix this with applesauce.
- Unsweetened banana chips.
- Raisins (we avoid Craisins, dried cranberries because they have a TON of sugar on them to counter their bitter taste).
- Homemade granola bars-super super easy to make yourself and control the ingredients. I purposely make them without chocolate chips, otherwise even if the bars are good, I’ll never know because they will just pick out the chocolate. Post coming soon on ones we’ve tried. A recipe with coconut oil is a great way to get in those healthy fats.
- Sweet potato wedges. Chop into wedges, toss with a little olive oil (herbs/spices optional but we do cumin) and bake in oven until tender. Side of low(er) sugar ketchup helps too.
- Apple on a stick. Grammie get’s all the credit here. Peel an apple and stick a Popsicle stick or fork in it and hand it to your kid like a lollipop. You can smear peanut butter on it too.
- Broccoli-Try raw VS al dente VS cooked…seems to really change if my kids will eat it.
- Sugar snap beans. I find these in the frozen aisle. Much preferred by my kids to regular string beans.
- Raw bell peppers. Not just the green ones either! My girls love the bright yellow, orange, and red colors!
- Applesauce. A favorite of mine to can each fall, no additional sugar needed!
- gimMe organic Seaweed. This one still surprises me, but my youngest will eat a whole box in one sitting!
Have anything to add that your picky eater loves?
Hi there! I’m Kaley, prevailing parent and wife, but also just me; stubborn lover of DIY everything, outdoors, and chocolate. Read more about myself and my family under the “Parenting” > “About My Family” tabs.