How did I get my almost two year old to be such a good eater?

23 Feb

How did I get him to be such a good eater?

My friend Pricscilla asked me my opinion on dealing with kids who are picky eaters. I feel I nipped this in the bud fairly early as I let him taste almost everything I was eating by age one. I’ve even puréed a BMT Subway sandwich with pickles and peppers for his mesh teether. This might not be the route you’ve taken, but here is how I encourage healthy eating now:

Grocery shopping. Most parents avoid taking kids to the grocery store at all costs. I don’t really have a choice most of the time. My husband works late often and on Saturdays. Today I let Braden walk in the grocery store instead of sit in the stroller and I let him help me find the things on our list. He finds distractions along the way- anything brightly colored and within reach, really. We have to remember as parents that marketing execs make packaged foods bright and shiny, because it stimulates excitement in our brains, especially for kids. It looks fun, like a toy. Among the things he asked for were Oreos, chocolate bars, a big squishy ball, an 8 pack of batteries, a bag of jelly beans, beef jerky, a dish sponge, etc. He has no idea why he wants it, he just likes the way it looks. He asked me to buy several things he saw with “strawberry” on the front, including jelly and pop-tarts. We compromised by getting strawberry yogurt. The fresh strawberries looked like they’d seen better days. He also picked himself out a grapefruit, which I let him buy. Good news- he liked it! Kids keep asking just to see what they can have. It’s exciting for them to pick out foods. Kids are curious by nature and letting them help pick things out encourages them to eat healthy. I also let him help me cook whenever possible.

No means no. Curiosity isn’t reserved just for healthy foods, unfortunately. When we were at the checkout he picked up every single item in the candy display and was told “no” to each one. People around me say things like, “looks like you have your hands full.” I laugh because I think he’s like any normal kid in the store. I absolutely get tired of saying “no,” but I stand my ground even through a tantrum. And at his age, by the time you get home he will have forgotten the 40 things you didn’t let him buy. If you even let one tantrum change a “no” to a “yes” I can guarantee you will see “Tantrum: part two” on your next trip 😉

Tips, tricks, and tests. Kids need to be given a few healthy choices, but not unlimited choices. They don’t have to eat everything on their plate, but I’m still going to put on the plate. For some children the more you insist, the less inclined they are to eat it. If they refuse to eat one healthy meal, they will just be hungrier for the next, as long as you don’t offer snacks after an un-eaten meal. You can even offer the same meal a second time when they say they’re hungry, but when I do, I always have a backup plan. Let’s be honest, who wants to eat reheated eggs and hash browns? My friend Jacquelyn has a three year old and when she says she’s hungry Jacquelyn asks her if she wants a boiled egg. If she says yes, then she’s actually hungry and not just bored. Another good trick I use is one I learned from my Dad- a tactic that had us begging to eat spinach as kids. I make only one plate for myself and then he inevitably wants a bite. I pretend like its so good that I am sharing reluctantly. When I control the fork he can’t pick out the tiny pieces of spinach from the spaghetti sauce. Speaking of sauce, sauce makes everything better so if a child doesn’t like something, you can always add a small amount of sauce. Spinach dip is a big hit around here 🙂

Limitations. Some foods are also distractions from healthier foods. When a child acquires a preference for a food like chicken nuggets, graham crackers, ketchup, bananas, etc, it can reduce their desire for other foods which are necessary for a balanced diet. Bananas, and to a lesser extent now, crackers, seem to be his first choice. While not necessarily unhealthy in moderation, a diet of only crackers and bananas is not good. I take one of two routes when he becomes fixated on a food. The less restrictive route, which I have established for things like bananas, is a daily allotment. Braden is allowed only one half of a banana per day. If it were his choice he would eat three bananas a day. After he has the amount of something he is allowed and asks for more, I remind him that he already had some, he can have more tomorrow, and I suggest something else.

Take charge! There are some things that I have gone on strike about, like Ketchup and Ritz, because they offer little nutrition, and frankly, they should not be a measurable percentage of his diet. I let him have ketchup on his eggs once and every time he would see eggs he would say, “ketchup.” I threw the ketchup away and that was the end of the story. We do sometimes have ketchup, but I am watchful that we don’t have it more than once a week. Kids need rules. Kids even LIKE rules, so if you have a picky eater on your hands, don’t give up!




8 Responses to “How did I get my almost two year old to be such a good eater?”

  1. meg March 1, 2013 at 1:34 am #

    Would love to know your tips for when the tantrums do develop from saying no: in the grocery…and when you cut the intake of bananas and crackers…my son has literally been on a hunger strike for soo long. I keep thinking, and am told, that eventually he will be so hungry he will eat what is on his tray. Not yet and I am so stressed out from the battles of meal time and also the grocery store tantrums where I know I should just abandon ship and get in the car and leave but I just cant bear it. We get to the grocery so infrequently that it kills me to leave the cart and go home, but I have not found an effective way to deal with the tantrums there… thanks in advance for your help!

    • mraysby March 2, 2013 at 9:17 am #

      First, your response to tantrums at the store CANNOT be different from any other tantrums. I say, “you can cry, but it’s not going to change the answer.” Or, “are you sad? I know, but that’s not good for you and we’re going to get… instead.” Kids have a short attention span so when I see a tantrum brewing I ask him if he wants to hold something from the cart, or let him walk around and help.

      You shouldn’t expect them to eat as much healthy food as they do of their favorites. I can eat way more chips than I can carrots. Be willing to hold out on snacks for three or four days even if he refuses to eat. They do NOT need to eat at every meal. Learn to be okay with that. By fighting with him it can create an aversion or negative emotional feelings connected to mealtime. Don’t let him see you get worked up. If he refuses to eat say, “alright, are you all done?” and let him get down. The more you insist, the worse the situation will get. When he cries for another food later remind him that he can’t have a snack because he didn’t eat his food. What is the longest you have actually let him go without eating?

      Kids like to know what’s happening next so if he sees the meal bought, helps prep it and is given a reminder of what happens at mealtime, it builds up toward the event. “We’re going to eat these tasty carrots, right?” Even if he says no say, “Mommy is going to eat them,” as if he’s crazy for not wanting them.

      My son prefers fruit in he morning and won’t eat eggs. I have started only putting eggs on his plate and when he asks for fruit I say, “you can have bananas after you eat your eggs.” I’ve never seen him eat eggs so fast. The way I decide to limit or remove a food is when he repeatedly asks for it, throws a tantrum over it, or if it keeps him from eating other food on his plate. I love the questions.

      I occasionally watch kids for a few friends, and they always warn me their kid is picky and I NEVER have a problem. When they get picked up I list all the things we ate, haha. And I even pack them a little extra of whatever was for dinner for the next day. Maybe I’m just an excellent cook 😉

      • m feldman March 3, 2013 at 1:29 am #

        Sorry about that. I was actually forwarding my husband your responses and mistakenly replied to you. So, reading over you very helpful and informative response, my problem is that I’ve never done a stroller or any type of public place, etc time out before. His timeouts thus far have been for throwing his food everywhere, so he stays in the hi-chair but we move it into the hallway, back to us, turn the lights out and we leave him for about 1-2 minutes (he just turned 2). One of my biggest questions to everyone is how do you do time-outs outside the home? I’d love ANY/ALL advice with that as lately he has been a real punk when we are out and I just don’t know how to handle it best. I tell him, no whining, no crying, or we’ll have to go home, etc (said like thats a super bad thing). Hayden, mommy does not tolerate that behavior, etc. then pull out every damn baggie of snacks I can while wiping a line of sweat off my forehead 🙂 I really have no experience with properly doing a time out, let alone just knowing how to react to that behavior in public. At home, I have the luxury of saying my peace and then busying myself with something else while he finishes up his tantrum. I’ve bought a few books and its not that they don’t work for us, I just find that the advice isn’t there at all. He went from being so pleasurable to take places and so easily adjusted, to now being my nightmare companion. We are in the city and he goes everywhere with me, so I gotta get this figured out. I need some serious advice if you have time. I realize, it’s up to me to control the situations, but I feel so overwhelmed these days.

        As for his eating issues and your question about how long I’ve let him go without eating and without eating snacks, its not a long period of time. His preferred snacks are mainly fruit. He would eat fruit over anything so we never put it on his tray with meals or that’s all he’d eat. He’s done a lot of early intervention for his eating b/c after I stopped nursing, his weight fell and he went from 50th percentile to negative and he’s still there a year and a half later. Our ped had/has us supplementing meals with bed/naptime toddler formula bottles as his weight gain was alarming for a while and also, he refuses to drink whole milk, we switched to 2% and he will maybe have 3 sips a day. He’s been done with early intervention for a while. It went from being a sensory issue to a behavioral one and then got a bit better. It’s definitely behavioral and it comes back in waves. I hate that he’s 2 now and I still am unable to get him to eat even a little of what we are eating at meals. His meals are Hayden type stuff and now that we are back in one of his hunger strikes, he’s hardly eating even those.

        Thanks a ton, I really appreciate your time and great advice!!! -Meg

        Date: Sat, 2 Mar 2013 15:17:15 +0000 To:

      • mraysby March 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm #

        How to give timeouts:

        I started timeouts as time that we went together in his room to quietly calm down and discuss why we are in time out. I switched to solitary timeouts when he was old enough to start telling me thins he or I shouldn’t do. Like if he throws his food he says, “no no!” then he’s ready for timeouts alone.

        In public, if I have no stroller, I will hold him on my lap and tell him, “you’re in timeout.” It just means he will be getting no attention for two minutes won’t be free to move around. My timeout routine is to always give a warning. “If you ________ you will get a time out.” Step two, “you are getting a timeout because you ________.” Make sure to get down on his level and make eye contact. When the timeout is over I tell him we are going to have a talk and I ask him why he was in timeout or if your kid is less vocal, just remind him why. I remind him that we don’t do that. I ask him to say sorry and have him give me a hug and I say, “I love you.” Very effective. He once broke a candle and got a timeout and he still tells me that story when he sees a candle.

      • mraysby March 3, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

        Do not offer more than one type of snack. That might be part of the problem. I usually only bring one option. You’re either hungry or not. I sometimes offer him a tic tac, but when he starts asking for them I take them away and I have a strict rule of only one.

        Do NOT say your going to leave somewhere unless 1. you know he doesn’t want to leave and 2. you are prepared after the first warning to ACTUALLY leave. Never use empty threats or you are teaching your child that you don’t follow through.

        If you think it’s hard to make a change now, just imagine how hard it will be when he’s 16.

        Highchairs and timeouts: I wouldn’t leave him in the highchair for timeout. The highchair should not be connected with any sort of punishment. I also recommend doing fun activities in the highchair like paint and play doh or other non food activities to change the emotional connections to the highchair experience. If he throws food the punishment should be having to get down. I highly disagree with turning the lights off during timeout. We’re looking for attention deprivation, not sensory deprivation. You can also change his mealtime expectations by putting him in the highchair with NO food and sit down with your husband to dinner and watch the confusion on his face after a few minutes. When he protests, offer him a bite off of your fork. If he refuses give him nothing. If he accepts a few bites, push a little on his tray.

        My son is in the 2nd percentile for weight, but he’s also very short and anyone who’s ever seen him at a play date will vouch that he never stops eating. Does his doctor even have a child? The doctor isn’t always right. That advice of just supplementing doesn’t seem to be working. I suggest you try a strict four day strike on his hunger strike. No snacks unless a meal is eaten and no second options or giving in to requests for something else. No begging him to eat. Kids with the flu can go days without eating, no problem.

        As for drinking milk, my son hated milk so I mixed it with Ovaltine and gradually reduced the amount. He now drinks straight milk, but he prefers it out of an open cup. Sippy cups can make milk taste gross. He also likes it out of a straw.

        Please update me on how things are going, or let me know if you have more questions.

      • m feldman March 5, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

        Hi! Thanks for your wonderful comments and suggestions. I have forwarded them all to my husband so that we are both working together on the same page. I really like the idea of doing fun stuff, non-food related, in the high chair. Great idea. My concern about getting him out of the high chair when he throws his food is that, that’s actually exactly what he wants. He wants out and I feel like I’m rewarding the throwing of food if I let him down… Our time out situation is really throwing me off. I feel like I can’t get the time out thing across to him unless he is in his chair, or in some place where he is “Stuck” b/c he doesn’t stay in anywhere for a timeout otherwise. The lights out thing is not like he’s sitting in the dark, its more because he would just turn and play peek a boo and start talking to his toys, etc when he would be in the same bright atmosphere with us and his stuff, so the hallway, away from it was my only thought. But I understand that its not a sensory deprivation, just at a lose of how to handle it from now on

        How old was your son when you felt that he understood the time out process and would actually stay still for it/really be in timeout and not running away from you or laughing, etc? Thanks again, you are a wonderful help and I look forward to sending him to your house and getting a note of the foods you got him to eat!!! 😉 I love that!!!

        Date: Mon, 4 Mar 2013 02:21:12 +0000 To:

      • mraysby March 8, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

        All kids are different with time outs. As I said, when he tells you no to something naughty, he’s ready. Being allowed to sit in the highchair is a privilege, not a punishment. If you treat it that way you will get a different reaction. I recommend that you do yourself a favor and find a new timeout spot. Maybe gate his room and make that the timeout spot. Don’t worry about what he does in there, ie, plays with toys. He’s in timeout from your attention. Braden in timeout used to try to make me crazy by showing me things he was playing with. It’s just a tactic to get attention during a timeout. Don’t fall for it.

    • mraysby March 2, 2013 at 9:20 am #

      I NEVER leave the store for a tantrum. I’m in charge. And if they don’t like the store, then by leaving they are getting what they want. I might put him in the stroller for a timeout, or even take him to the bathroom to calm him down. It is okay to give them snacks while shopping. We either have cashews, dried green beans, or a an apple.

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