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Toddler Vs Dinner: The battle of getting them to eat

Do you know what I’ve realised is one of the best things about babies during my second stint as a mumma? They will basically eat whatever you put in front of them without creating too much fuss. You can mash up some potato, chuck in a bit of corn, blend some chicken (because yum, who doesn’t love the sound of blended chicken?!) Maybe add in some chickpeas and look, there’s some grated apple. I mean why not?  Voila! And best of all, they eat it! Because food is life and babies don’t know jack about what you’re feeding them.

Introducing the toddler. I found Bobby’s most difficult age with food was around 18 months. He had a HUGE appetite as a baby and genuinely ate everything that I ever put in front of him. But something triggered around this age, where he started to kick up a stink at textures, smells and eeeeeek…. green food!

I strongly believe there was a time in his life there where he ate fruit and yogurt for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Every. Single. Day. I suppose we’ve been lucky in the fact that Bobby has never once rejected fruit. Even now he quite enjoys his nightly routine of going to bed and popping down about 20 minutes later for his late-night snack of a banana with Mumma on the kitchen bench. It could be worse I suppose.

Vegetables, on the other hand, have and still do prove to be difficult at times. Again, it was around that 18 months to 2.5 years old age where he would say a gigantic, ‘HELL NO!’ to most vegetables. We experienced many torturous trials. He would even start to notice there were tiny little chopped/blended up veggies in his spag bol and let’s face it if they reject the veggie filled spag bol then we’re all stuffed!!

“I don’t like carrots,” he would say as he fiddled around in his bowl, finding my 2mm strands of grated carrot in his dinner even though he’d munched down a raw carrot earlier that very same day.

I found that age the hardest to deal with when it came to food because at that age, there is simply no logic and certainly no reasoning with them. There is no understanding that they need to eat this type of food because it’s healthy and because Mum and Dad are about to flip their god damn lid if you don’t!

It’s so easy to whip up some scrambled eggs isn’t it? To give in and say, ‘FINE! Have vegemite toast for dinner.’ I know I’ve done it and hey, at times I still do. But in our household we eat healthy dinners at least 6/7 nights a week (minus the odd Friday night Fish n’ Chips!) My husband is a health freak and loves to fuel his body with nutritious food while I am what I like to call “the perfect balance.” Sure, I LOVE cooking. I love experimenting with food and flavours and most the dinners I cook I make up on the spot, or loosely following some recipe I googled. But, I also have a sweet-tooth bigger than most 5 year olds high on red jellybeans!

I’ve never proclaimed to have perfect eaters but I suppose our kids have been OK because we’ve always served a healthy option on their plate. With Bobby (even in that difficult toddler period) even though I KNEW he wasn’t going to eat it, I would still serve him up veggies on his plate. Broccoli, carrots, peas (which he still won’t eat but my god will I persist!!) and beans are our go-to. Occasionally, he will also get a chunk of corn as well.

There were times when he would immediately shove the plate away. There were times when he would do the old, ‘If I play around with my fork long enough maybe she will think I’m eating them.’ There were times when he would be distracted, take a bite, only to realise GOD DAMMIT SHE GOT ME and spit it out straight away. And you guessed it, there were times where he just sat there and ate it.

During this period (other than serving it up to him every night) I loosened up on forcing him to eat it. As a human in his own right, I thought I can’t physically force my child to eat something if he doesn’t want to. So, I focused more on the routine of it, the habit of it and the positive language surrounding it. I learnt that making Bobby feel empowered and like he was making his own choices was going to work better than getting all huffed n’ puffed and therefore turning dinner time into a scary scenario and one that would only make him put his walls up even more.

Like mentioned above, there was a time in his life where banana and yogurt was LIFE. Was he ticking all the food groups? Absolutely not. But was he starving? Absolutely not. As his Mum and Dad we decided to let him discover what he liked and what he didn’t. And just like both of his parents, he soon developed a hatred for tomatoes but a LOVE for broccoli and beans.

I also like to avoid trying to force him to finish everything on his plate. Toddlers actually have small stomachs and if they’re full, they’re full. Yes, at times he was well and truly playing us as parents, but can you really be certain all the time exactly how they are feeling? I find forcing kids to do anything can create unnecessary stress, let alone getting angry at them for not finishing a plate of food when they really don’t want to. Again, positive language is what we encourage. Praising them for trying another spoonful or even getting them to have little sips of water in between to break it up.

At only 3.5 years old, Bobby now has developed the logical thinking required to eat a healthy meal (most of the time anyway). He understands that certain foods are good for you and certain foods are bad for you. There will most certainly be a period there in their life where you’ll be at your wits end again #bananaandyogurtislife. But just like everything we try to do as parents, try to be a good role model when it comes to eating. Sit together and create a happy, fun environment. Show them how much you’re enjoying eating it and even try to get them involved in the cooking/preparation process.

Written by Sophie Cachia

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