Just one bite!
The negotiations have failed. And there the broccoli sits.
Toddler meal times can quickly devolve into minor power squabbles. And all you want is for one bite of cabbage to pass those little lips.
It’s complicated though.
They’re appetites, for one, are in flux. They’re not as hungry as they were as little babies since they’re growing less..
Then there’s that survival instinct that comes with their increased independence- an increased wariness of all things new, untested, especially foods. Good thing too if we lived in the woods and they were now able to wander more freely- that caution might stop their hands from putting that poisonous berry to their mouths.
So then there’s that independence- it’s a new reflex for toddlers to refuse, to say no. A new freedom, an important skill, to will something different than mom or dad. Don’t just quash it! They need a sense of their own wills if they’re to manage life on their own in the future.
Unbeknownst to the well meaning carrot-wielding parent, the more they push, the more that little persons primal instincts and developmental trajectories tell them to dig those heels in!
What’s a well meaning parent to do? You’re trying to teach them healthy habits!
Maybe you’ll try to reason with the little wild, candy seeking thing.
If you’re going to ‘reason’ with a toddler, it might seem natural to extol the health benefits of particular foods. Education, right? Sugar bad, broccoli good.
Well then I read this article about a study where they tested two approaches to ‘selling’ foods to kids. One group heard about all the healthy things about wheat thins (ok, not what I want to be selling lol, I’m not nabisco). The other about the tastiness of wheat thins. The last heard nothin.
Which group ate the most wheat thins?
The Tasty group of course!
Makes sense too- I mean you know that eating a bowl of broccoli is healthier than a whole tray of brownies. But does it always workout that you choose the boring healthy spartan broccoli over the gooey Fudgey decadent s’mores brownies? (Ummmmm, ok purely metaphorical here…)
I mean besides the obvious taste difference, it appears there’s something else at play psychologically speaking.
Some of you might be going, ‘well hold on! Back up! Since when is broccoli boring? Spartan? Ma dear, that veg is vibrant!’
Well you friend are on the money! When we focus on the enjoyable aspects of a particular behavior, the researchers suggest, were more likely to engage in it! Toddlers too! They were able to get excited about wheat thins when they heard they’d be yummy.
Sure, broccoli might never have the raw appeal of brownies, but we can certainly get more into yummy broccoli than healthy broccoli.
broccoli, mango salsa, and día de Los muertos spoon
Based on this information, here are some things I do to encourage my picky little eater to consume healthy foods, or to try new ones, that focus on what’s enjoyable about certain foods:
*We make up silly songs about the food-
Broccoli tree, broccoli tree, boy you are sooo yummy; vitamin a, vitamin c, so yummy in my tummy!
*We describe the food:
Is it squishy? Is it sweet? What color is it? What’s it taste like?
*We prepare the food together:
We’ll scrub the sweet potato, put it on the tray, put it in the oven, watch it cook with the oven light on. If you can plant the veg together, well, gold stars upon your green head!
*My husband and I will make exaggerated sounds of enjoyment, talking up the delicious qualities of the food.
Mmmmm carrots are so sweet! I loooove yogurt in the morning!
*Peer pressure (well applied!)
We’ll talk about all the people (or animals or toys) that enjoy a particular food.
Grandma loves beans! Bunnies eat lettuce all the time!
*Choices! I’ll ask him what he wants between several options, and he’ll decide what we make that night. Often he’ll be more invested in the dinner then, and excited by it.
*Butter, cream and cheese. A bit of flavor can work wonders with a veggie, without overpowering it’s healthfulness.
Basically I try to limit good/bad food categories. We try to find room for all foods in Munches diet. Just some things get more air time than others. But most importantly, we focus on the fun, the pleasure. Or we try too, at least 😉
chewing on celery sticks- after banging it on the table first
All of this is great parenting fodder- but most certainly, like with all sound parenting advice, it’s so useful in how we approach ourselves.
Do we do food power plays with ourselves? Demanding we eat the healthy, non fattening broccoli when our playful toddler hearts want a pint of ice cream? Do we try to enforce healthy behavior for it’s own healthy sake, teeth gritted, health-conscious warrior like?
Were so very much like toddlers- we want our life, our food, to be fun and enjoyable. Sure, sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do, and that’s a good thing. We are grown ups.
Often though, we could probably afford to change our approach, especially regarding health and fitness. We can afford to be a little more like toddlers, toddlers with awesome parents (us!).
What are ways you can be more playful and ‘pleasure oriented’ in your approach to healthy eating and exercise?
Maybe get some ideas by listening to this podcast, Why Willpower Isn’t Enoughby the Nutrition Diva.
Also, what are ways you encourage the picky eaters in your life, toddler or otherwise, to enjoy delicious good for you foods?