A friend recently asked me about her daughter’s sudden refusal to eat fruit and vegetables. Having survived the odd food fight with my son, I felt qualified to offer her a few tips. For anyone else having troubles with toddlers and produce, here’s what I told her.
First of all, do not get obsessed over one meal. It is very easy to believe that your child’s health will be severely compromised if she does not eat the sweet potato you lovingly prepared for dinner, but the reality is that a few incomplete meals are not the end of the world. Most nutritionists recommend that you take a long view of your child’s eating habits – evaluate her meals over the course of a few days and then make a judgment.
Remember too that the more fuss you make, the more attention your toddler gets. And the supper table is the ideal venue for him to test limits and get attention, whether positive or negative. Try not to make a big deal out of what’s left on the plate.
Generally speaking, vegetables are a tougher sell than fruit. But one of the keys to getting little ones to eat both is to make a wide variety of choices available. And be persistent – a child will likely reject something at first, but keep trying and one day he’ll surprise you and eat it.
Eat fruit and vegetables with your child. If you don’t set an example by eating these things yourself, you can’t expect your child to do it.
Some experts recommend that you talk to your child about different fruits and vegetables, explaining what they are and why you like them. Children love to learn, so if they learn what the new thing is, they may be encouraged to eat it (or so the theory goes).
I’ve heard some parents suggest that you make the food “fun” by arranging fruits and vegetables on your child’s plate in the shape of a face or some other such thing. I can’t recommend this approach myself, as my only attempt to make “fun” food was far from successful.
When planning meals, remember that kids love colour and the more colours (i.e. produce) you present, the more exciting and tempting the meal will be.
Get the child involved in food preparation. Toddlers love water – after you’ve given some carrots or potatoes a thorough wash, ask your child to finish the job. Get her to put toppings on a pizza. Ask him to peel a banana before you put it in a fruit shake. Let her put a handful of blueberries into the muffin batter. You get the idea.
Where possible, skip the blender – serve fruit and vegetables as finger foods and not as purees. A child is more likely to try something if she can feed herself with a small cube of it, instead of having someone else spoon feed her some mushy glop. Some people recommend dips as an enticement for vegetables. I tried to avoid them so that my son would not equate vegetables with fatty or salty sauces, but dressings and dips are often the only recourse of desperate parents.
If all else fails, try subterfuge. With this tactic, you may need that blender. Add pureed vegetables to sauces, soups, hamburgers or meatloaf. I had success by calling a fruit shake “pudding”. You can also take a page out of my mother‘s book. She snuck peas and carrots into our chocolate shakes and my sister and I were none the wiser.