Friday, April 17, 2009

All Toddlers are Fussy Eaters

MetaBoy is a great eater, all things considered. He has a big appetite, which means he's on the end of the spectrum where I have a hard time finding enough food to feed him.

That said, even he becomes difficult sometimes. His favorite word is "no." Despite being hungry and liking the food in question, he'll reject it flat out if that's the mood he's in. We've found a few tricks to combat the "no" monster, but eh...nothing works 100% of the time.
  • Dips - I don't know why, but he loves dipping food. He calls it "dip dip." If we pour a sauce right on top of his meal, he might refuse it. If you put a dollop on his plate, he'll dip everything into it. We've used various sauces, hummus, yogurt, maple syrup (for pancakes), and jam. He might not eat bread, but he will if he can dip it!

  • Delivery - Sometimes, it's about changing up the delivery of a food. A food he might be bored with becomes more exciting if you change how it's eaten. Chicken and vegetables in a sandwich can be a lot more entertaining since MetaBoy doesn't get sandwiches often. A quiche with the same old food is another exciting escape. He also loves the occasional soup, which is loads of fun served in a small bowl with a small spoon. A little messy, but not too bad...especially if he's hungry ;-)

  • Challenging Food - Sometimes, a new food is a great treat, especially when it's a challenge to eat. Artichokes, for example, are easy to cook and delicious, but can be intimidating to eat for novices. To eat it, you tear a leaf from a cooked artichoke and scrape off the fleshy part with your teeth (the part that was attached to the artichoke). If you like, dip it first (e.g., salad dressing). Once you've eaten as many of the leaves as you can, take out the tough choke (should tear right out), and eat the heart. very good. But that's me. Here's someone else's take on it. If you get baby artichokes, which might be a better way to go for kids, the choke should be tender enough to eat in its entirety. Test it out before releasing the kids on it.

  • Seasoning - MetaBoy is much more inclined to eat if he gets to sprinkle even the smallest amount of salt on his food. Other sprinkles that rev up his appetite: paprika (fun color, mild flavor), lemon, and lime.

  • Mini Food - Maybe it's just me, but I love mini food. I've found loads of wonderful mini vegetables at the farmers' market (e.g., mini zucchini, mini potatoes, mini squash, micro small they make me wince with delight). I love to saute them all together and serve with something grilled (e.g., chicken, fish). But so many foods can be mini...pasta, sandwiches, cheese. If possible, just cut a larger food down to size and, depending on your kid, say (1) "isn't the food cute!!" or (2) "wow, you're a giant!!"
To be completely honest, these are just a few ideas to shake things up. Meals can get boring sometimes, so it's fun to introduce novelty. I've found the best tool with MetaBoy to be persistence. He may have a healthy appetite, but he's refused food in the past. My standard line is if you don't finish what's on your plate, I will assume you are not hungry, so you will not get anything else. I try to take his degree of hunger and level of cooperation into consideration, though. If he's eaten well at lunch, he doesn't necessarily have to eat that much at dinner to be full. In that case, as long as he eats a reasonable amount, I'm happy. He also has to try everything on his plate, even if he thinks he won't like it. He usually finds that he does like it. (We then stifle an "I told you so.") I might even chime in with "if you eat a bit, I'll eat a bite," which works for a couple of bites.

The biggest thing, in my book, is that I never make him a special meal just because he will not eat what we're eating. Once he started to eat non-mashed food, he ate the same food we ate. My take on it is that once he knows he can get a different meal out of me, he'll play that card every time. And if there's nothing wrong with our food, what's stopping him from eating it other than sheer stubbornness? They learn so fast, after all.

These days, he asks for a treat after every meal. Of course, that could be anything from fruit to a cookie. I think MetaDaddy's trying to convince him that leftover baby potatoes with a sprinkle of salt are just as good as a cookie. To be fair, to MetaDaddy, it is ;-)