The transition from bouncing baby to teeny toddler dictator happened quite suddenly for Sofía. One day she was a happy-go-lucky, never-complains-about-nothing baby. Next thing I knew, she was telling me what to do…in a not-so-nice tone. Luckily for us, though, she never told us what to make her for meals. I trained her from infancy that mom gives her the food, and no questions should be asked.
That is, until recently.
She has been getting more and more used to having a little treat now and then, and she’s catching on. I’m pretty sure it started around Halloween time. Now Gramee has her eating sweets every day for the next couple weeks for her little Christmas Elf activity. Basically, Sofía knows that there’s no harm in asking.
© wusuowei / Dollar Photo Club
I believe, or I’ve heard (and correct me if I’m wrong), that most parents kiss their children’s feet at meal times and let them eat what they want. At least here in the United States that seems to be the case. But that habit is bound to get worse as children age, so it’s critical that parents make changes while children are young.
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Short-Order Cooking Dilemma
Rule #3 – Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: No substitutes and no short-order cooking!
Maybe you’re not certain what short-order cooking sounds like. Here’s a little scenario to help you out:
Pretend like you just cooked an amazing meal of pork chops with some braised cabbage and a healthy spinach salad. You cut up the pork into bite size pieces for your 3 year old to eat, cut through the cabbage so it’s easier to eat, and make sure all the components of the salad are small enough as well.
As soon as you place this scrumptious meal in front of your toddler, you hear the following:
“I don’t LIKE salad! I want mac ‘n cheese!”
It startles you, but you’re so used to it, that you already have the macaroni noodles boiling on the stovetop. You swiftly remove the plate from your toddler’s place at the table and act as if they did nothing wrong.
Hopefully, this scene isn’t what you are dealing with day in and day out, but if it is, why are you putting up with it?
Guess what? It doesn’t have to be that way. Your job in the kitchen doesn’t have to be answering to the many often changing requests of your hungry toddler (or even older child). It takes time to prepare more than one meal, and I doubt you really have time for that in your day.
If Sofía says “I want peeta butta” (peanut butter for those who don’t speak toddlerese), but we’re eating Spanish Rice, I’m not going to suddenly say, “As you wish, my darling.” She has to learn that at any meal, she is to eat what she is served.
Just as a side note, I feed my babies purees until 12 months, and then I gradually start to feed them what we are eating. Sofía didn’t actually eat everything we ate at meal time until she was 18 months old. I was making her very healthy meals, which made it hard for me to switch her over to our regular food.
How to Make One Meal for Your Family
A few things have helped me stick to my guns when feeding my toddler:
1. Never introduce a “kid-friendly” food to your child if you want them to eat what you’ve prepared for the family.
Chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and hot dogs are all examples of kid-friendly foods. It’s no wonder why kids love them. They’re good. Shoot, they’re delicious! I’d eat them every day if I wasn’t concerned about my health. That’s why you can’t bring them into your home and offer them to your child if they won’t eat their dinner. They are just learning that if they throw a fit over eating some veggies, you’ll cave and microwave a hot dog for them.
2. Don’t buy the foods that your child is always requesting.
If they seem to always ask for Goldfish crackers, and you swiftly hand them a cup full, they get used to that. When you want to give them a piece of broccoli instead, it’s not happening. They are so used to their crackers (the salty, crunchy goodness), so of course they’ll be throwing a fit if they don’t get them.
3. Stop asking your child, “What would you like to eat?”
The few times that I’ve caught myself saying, “Sofía, what should we eat for lunch?”, she replied with, “Um, we have choc-let” all innocent like. So I don’t even ask her what she wants to eat. I tell her what she is going to eat and it eliminates all kinds of problems.
I challenge you to remove this phrase from your dialogue going forward. Instead, make what you have planned and put it in front of your child. Simple as that.
4. Keep treats and extras to a minimum, and only offer them on occasion.
I’ve learned that if Sofía is going to eat the soup, she can’t know there are crackers until she has eaten most of her soup. And then if I decide to give her crackers, I limit her to 3 or 4 at the most. She is a bread fanatic, so our one downfall is giving her WAY too much bread. I have been much more conscious of this lately and haven’t offered it to her quite as often.
I am all for making cute food for kids (you know, the sandwiches shaped like dolphins and the cheese shaped like hearts), but I wouldn’t accomplish much of anything else if I had to do that for her every day for lunch. I’d probably have to start making her lunch right after breakfast! If you like making these special lunches, make them for special occasions instead of 5 days a week.
All in all, a child will eat what you cook for them if you keep certain foods out of your house, if you limit their choices, and if you give them treats occasionally.
Are you a victim of your child’s demanding dinnertime requests?
Make sure to check out the other posts in this series:
- Let’s Talk Kids and Food
- Kids and Food: Great Eating Habits Start With YOU
- Kids and Food: The Snacking Rule
- Kids and Food: Short-Order Cooking
- Kids and Food: Eat Your Veggies
- Kids and Food: Emotional Eating
- Kids and Food: Taste Everything
- Kids and Food: No Distractions
- Kids and Food: Eat Real Food
- Kids and Food: Eat Slow