In honor of Kids Eat Right month this August, I’m sharing a few things that I’ve learned about kids eating right, kids eating “wrong,” and how to persevere through the tricky toddler years.
As a dietitian, I’ve always believed kids need a good “edukitchen.”
As a mom, I know that it’s always harder than it sounds, and the challenges, worries and frustrations with getting your kid to eat certain foods are REAL. That’s why parents also need a good “edukitchen,” as well as reminders and encouragement on the best approaches to toddler nutrition.
Remember the days when your baby ate everything you put in front of him or her? I was so proud of Brady’s palate when he was 8, 10, 12 months old. Well, this post isn’t for those parents.😝 It’s for the parents, grandparents or caretakers of opinionated toddlers who are flexing their independence, still a little too young to really help in the kitchen and have a rapidly growing (and constantly changing) sense of food likes and dislikes.
Parent EduKitchen: Exposure, exposure, exposure
Have you ever served your kid a new food and thought, “Well, guess he doesn’t like it!” when he won’t eat it? I have, dozens of times. It’s easy to draw conclusions after just one try. But I’ve learned that it actually takes many, many exposures to a new food for most kids to even try a bite.
Consider this: Many foods that kids like at first exposure aren’t very healthy! Crackers, cookies, chips, candy and white-bread products usually don’t require convincing. I have no idea how they know at first glance that these are simple and delicious carbs. It must be a special toddler sense that goes something like this:
This food has low nutritional value…proceed.
This food has high nutritional value – caution! caution!
The foods that are worth feeding to your child take extra work.
It takes 10 or more exposures for most kids to try a new food. 10! Or more! Before kids, this stat didn’t really resonate. Now, I envision all the food waste…all the wasted time…all the discouragement when you plate the same food for the 9th time when he’s ignored it or thrown it to the dog the last 8 times. It’s hard to do in practice. It takes a lot of commitment, perseverance and just plain stubbornness by a parent. Thankfully, I’ve got that last one in spades. Sorry, Brady!
Exposure + time is the best approach. And it’s considered “neutral exposure,” by the way, so don’t push it or force it.
I love this quote by childhood nutrition pioneer Harriet Worobey: “Parents feel like it’s their job to make their children eat something. But it’s really their job to serve a variety of healthy foods and get their children exposed to foods.” I would add: “and eat it yourself to model healthy food behavior.”
Child EduKitchen: Playtime!
I’m looking forward to having Brady help out in the kitchen. There are so many things that older kids can do! Check out this list of Kid-Friendly Kitchen Tasks (ages 3-12) from KidsEatRight or this list of older toddler and preschooler kitchen tasks.
Honestly, there’s not much my 17 month old can do right now. His best skills include eating stuff he shouldn’t, breaking stuff he shouldn’t, trying to touch the hot stove and turning on the empty dishwasher. But here are some age-appropriate ideas for 12-24 month-olds, and it will grow as their motor and cognitive abilities improve:
- Play with spatulas, wooden spoons & whisks
- Stack measuring cups
- Hide toys underneath plastic mixing bowls and let him find them
- Explore smells by smelling the spices in your spice drawer
- Explore textures by letting him touch dried and wet pasta, the roughness of an avocado skin, the smoothness of a celery stalk, the bumpiness of broccoli florets and so on
- Make shakers by filling empty bottles or tupperware with dried pasta and rice
- Drop veggies into a salad, counting as you go
- Place toppings on a pizza, pointing out the different colors
- Explain what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Even if they don’t understand, it’s good for verbal development and helps them see how food is prepared at home.
I hope this was helpful, fellow toddler mamas! Please feel free to share feedback or anything that you’ve learned in the comments section below. I still have much to learn, and it’s always nice to hear how other moms are doing!
August is Kids Eat Right Month™, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Academy Foundation’s chance to highlight the fight for our children’s healthy future. Find out how you can get involved!