Let me know if you give it a whirl!
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.
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 😉
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?
Also, what are ways you encourage the picky eaters in your life, toddler or otherwise, to enjoy delicious good for you foods?
It’s fun :)!!
For our time together as a family, we went to the park. Despite the chill and the drizzle.
We ALL played around a bit:
I came across this article illustrating and explaining the typical French school lunch. The pictures are lovely- seriously, go take a look, I’ll wait!
And here’s the official site for the French School Lunch Project. The project catalogues the menus, habits and other relevant details of school lunches in varying regions of France. The project illustrates how the approach to school lunches in France contributes to a healthy and positive food attitude (generally speaking) in it’s little people.
As a new mom I’m highly motivated for my son to adopt eating habits now that will carry him forward towards health and a positive relationship with food and his body in the future, so I think a lot about the ‘food culture’ in which we swim and how it shapes our palettes and behaviors. This ‘French School Lunch Project’ was right up my alley!
At the same time, I’m very ok that his life will surely include the iconic staples of American food culture like burgers and fries, pizza nights, buckets of movie popcorn, and probably late night Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich runs with his friends when he’s a teenager.
It’s the day-to-day, the routine, the final sum of the repeated, average decisions about food that I’m concerned with really.
I remember the play-dough like texture of the middle-school pizza lunch we were subjected to as unsuspecting 7th graders. Besides tasting awful, it said SO much about the value of a meal. Clearly, food was seen as a place to cut corners. It just didn’t seem to matter that we were eating food that was icky on multiple scores.
Kids spend a lot of time at school. They also learn a lot (duh!), but not just through the curriculum, but through the medium. They’re learning about themselves and their own value, about food and mealtimes, and imbibing messages about the value of health through school lunches. It’s a kindof ‘sensory play’ with a very lasting message.
What kindof message would you want kids to receive through their school lunch? What do your kids eat?
What was your school lunch like as a kid? How did it make you feel about food, yourself, and life in general (!)?
Entertaining a nearly two-year old can be oh so simple, despite their myopic attentions spans, their ‘creative’ use of whatever you give them (‘please don’t eat that’ might be our motto), and the frustration they feel when they want to do more than they’re yet physically capable of.
It takes just a few simple things to wade these parenting waters, suit up!
1. Patience- be ready for a mess. Be ready to have a plan that takes a turn. Be ready to hold off on ‘no’ until you’ve really thought about it- if you hang your shoulds, there might be a lot more ‘yes’ in your life. Sometimes a simple switcheroo can stand-in for a direct and toddler-jarring ‘no.’ These kids have barreling energy and intention- a no is like a brick wall. Wouldn’t you cry if you constantly were running into brick walls? A nice switcheroo directs that energy right past the danger zone and into something fun. You’ll see what I mean in a minute…
2. Simplicity- toddlers have a TON they’re learning and putting together. It doesn’t need to be fancy to be riveting. I remember when I absently started writing out the alphabet while ‘ABC’ was sung on Pandora radio. My son looked like the clouds had parted and God was smiling upon him. That song and those squiggles go together. He’s never looked back- sometimes his ‘lovey toy’ is a puzzle-piece of the letter ‘a.’ So think, what’s something simple that you take for granted as a given, that a toddler might get a real kick out of?
3. And for today: markers from the dollar bin at Target.
When we play with markers, we mean business. Sure, I didn’t want him writing on the walls, but we found some other fun surfaces for our ‘worlds most washable markers’:
I washed most of it off his face 🙂
Nonetheless, our markered limbs got us a few glances while we were out n about.
Easy peasy fun on a tired day.
It’s funny- thinking about Munchie’s feelings when he hears ‘no’ all the time gets me thinking about how I feel when I tell myself ‘no’ all the time. No, you’ll never pull that off. No you can’t move that weight. No, it’s too much for you to pass on cake again. No you’ll never be a real bodybuilder. It’s exhausting!
Like with Munch, for me the better approach is sometimes to find something to which I can enthusiastically say ‘yes!!’ So while it may not fit my goals right now to have a giant bowl of ice cream, I can find things that will help me get what I’m needing. Do I need fun? Yes, tv! Do I need to relax? Well put down that broom young lady and cuddle up to that couch! Do I feel lonely? Call, hell, even text someone, anyone! Am I just HUNGRY? Maybe drink some water, and bust out that amazing mango salsa and some veggies- that will tie you over till you eat next.
How about you- what’s your approach to ‘no’? Do you always tell yourself no? Or have you found ways that you can say yes, while sticking to your goals, fitness- health- nutrition- or otherwise?
Also, did you enjoy coloring as a kid?
I once thought to draw a beautiful landscape of hills and trees and birds across our entry wall when I was little. My parents were less pleased with my handiwork than I was 😉