My 3-year-old son, Masen, is a fantastic eating machine. A little too much if you ask me. He loves food so much so that he’ll literally stop whatever it is that he is doing with just the mere mention of something hitting his taste buds. Awesome, right? Sure, since you don’t have to be his short order cook ALL day long lol. I know so many parents struggle with picky eaters, and I feel fortunate that I don’t (sleeping is a whole different issue tho) So what’s my trick? I don’t focus on the food. It sounds crazy, right? I know, but it works! I’ve found that with little ones, its less about the food and more about the atmosphere. Make it fun. Make eating something they equate with extra bonding time, comfort, and experimentation. The tasty meal is just an added bonus. My 6 month old, Domenic, is already loving all sorts of foods. I think he equally enjoys making a mess, but hey, both kids leave the table with full bellies and smiles.
So believe it or not, feeding Masen was the only part of parenting I didn’t google for hours. By the way, how did parents ever survive without the internet? I would’ve never made it out alive. Never! That whole thing about mothers instincts went straight out the window. My search bar was filled with ridiculous questions and “conversations” all reflecting pure doubt and my strive for perfection at this parenting gig. It was insane. Anyway, back to food. Feeding Masen seemed pretty simple to me. Food can be amazing, but if the company sucks is there really that much enjoyment or desire to do the same thing again? Probably not. If I’m not liking the vibe, why should I expect my kids to? They’re humans too. So, my vibe is totally casual when it comes to mealtime. I want to sit down, feel relaxed, talk about my day, and be around others who feel the same. That’s what I do at my table. There is zero rush to finish your meal. I don’t care about the mess until afterwards. I don’t wipe my kids down throughout the meal unless it’s slinging into their eyes. There is no such thing as a baby or toddler that doesn’t make a mess. I just appreciate the very funny pictures I get to show my future daughter in-laws one day.
It took a combination of things to get Masen to be a human garbage disposal but they were honestly very easy and totally worth it. Here’s a list of the things I did (and am currently doing for my little Domenic too):
- There is no label to my approach. Call it what you want. There are so many different milestones going on in the first year, I honestly just go with the flow on a daily basis. Dom typically has oatmeal or yogurt with fruit in the morning, or a puree that he scoops on his own with his num num spoon (best spoon ever btw!). I personally feel a combination of both methods is the best way to create better eaters. Purees can introduce a variety of healthy foods at once, while offering a single food like roasted sweet potatoes helps baby get used to different textures. It also allows caregivers to comfortably be on board with how you want your baby fed. I find that grandparents are more for puree feeding than the newer principles of baby led weaning.
- Create a fun aromatic atmosphere. Before Masen was even ready for food, I “cooked” with him. At first he was in a baby wrap, and eventually he was in his high chair with some toys and able to see everything I was doing. I would talk to him and tell him I was chopping an onion or mixing the soup. Sure the conversations were a little one-sided for a while, but the whole point was for him to hang out with me and enjoy our “talks”. Dom has the added bonus of having his older brother around for our kitchen time. We have Alexa playing some music in the background while my happy kids get to smell what’s going on before we even sit to eat. It has always been important to me that they get used to different smells that will be filling our home for years to come. Great smells make us all hungry without having to say a word.
- Mix it up. I, myself, have failed at meal prep every time I tried it. I’ve finally recognized that I cannot eat the same thing every day or every week. My fridge reflects that. The snacks I have on hand are always changing up. Even goldfish aren’t a staple in my pantry. One week I’ll have apples and oranges in the fruit bowl, and the next it’ll be strawberries and watermelon to choose from. When the peanut butter crackers run out, its cheese crackers next. I don’t want any of us getting tired of our favorite foods and creating a smaller list of things to choose from. I want my options to always grow, and honestly, they do.
- Your meal is your choice. This is the biggest issue us parents have with our growing toddlers-the power struggle. It seems like we’re always losing to these little humans! I’ll be honest and tell you there is very little of that going on in my house when it comes to eating. You have 2 options, this or that. My options keep the staple part of the meal the same, but give Masen the choice over smaller things. For example, I’m making chicken, a roasted veggie and rice. I ask Masen if he wants some ranch for the chicken and some Parmesan cheese on the veggie. I know for sure he does, but I let him tell me so. He didn’t pick the actual meal, but he picks how he’ll enjoy it. It’s a win for both of us. I very rarely make separate meals. If he’s eating something different from us, it’s usually leftovers that are enough for one person any way. In that instance, he’ll get the choice of eating what mommy and daddy are having or what he had the day before.
- I’m not forcing you to eat it. I never have and I never will. You don’t want it? Leave it on the plate. I never ever force Masen to eat, I just ask if he’s done. We all have our days we’re not in the mood for things we normally like, and I don’t feel like kids have to be any different. Sometimes you just don’t want something and that’s OK. My kid is not going to starve to death. I always felt like if I made a big deal over him making a big deal, it would create the kind of attention I didn’t want. Little ones LOVE attention, good or bad. Eat it or don’t.
- You can dislike things. I’m not writing it off immediately tho. Everything Masen seemingly hated always made its way back to him several times before I deemed it something he truly didn’t like. When he was a baby, I always waited a few days before re-introducing things. Serving them with foods he loved also helped him to end up liking it by the second or third time. Even now with Dom, he seemingly hated typical baby favorites like apples until the third time around. Now, he absolutely loves them.
- Let things go, FAST. Carrots are one of Masen’s picky foods. I buy them every other week and he either eats the whole bag or it ends up hidden in something. If he’s on an “I hate carrots protest” I tell him he doesn’t need to eat it and I let it go. I push his plate off to the side, but where he can easily reach it. Ninety-five percent of the time he’s grabbing his plate an hour later and then digging in the veggie drawer for more. Oh, he showed me….Insert eye roll emoji.
These tips seem like a lot, but they are really easy. Bottom line, we’re not all born with a pallet to strictly love macaroni and cheese, pizza and chicken nuggets. If that was the case, it would be the only foods offered at the supermarkets, right? I mean that makes sense to me. So unlike my unsolvable sleeping issue with Masen, eating is something we have way more control over than we think. How many of us had our kids act a certain way with us, but been a completely different child at a play date or for the sitter? If your little one refuses broccoli at home, but eats it at grandma’s house then he or she likes the dam broccoli. That’s what it comes down to.
Trust me, I’m not bashing anyone’s way here. Parenting is hard AF! I know what it’s like to try every single thing imaginable only to keep failing at my seemingly “very easy” goal. We love our kids and just want to keep doing our absolute best for them. And we are. I just feel like we have to give them more credit for a lot of things. I can’t expect my kids to be open about food if I’m not fostering the kind of environment where that’s our norm. Kids are smart little buggers. They know very well that they rule our world. So, I let them rule it. Well, for the most part. We get to win sometimes too!
As of today, my threenager is on no set schedule for eating. He is a huge grazer. Yogurt, veggies and fruit are easily accessible in the refrigerator for him to grab. He has 3 meals a day with a ton of healthy snacks and water or milk.
Domenic is on a routine of :
- 7 A.M. Breakfast with 4 ounces of formula
- 11 A.M. 7 ounces of formula
- 2-3 P.M. Lunch with 4 oz of formula
- 6:30/7 P.M. 7 ounces of formula.
I say routine because like I mentioned earlier, there are so many different things happening to babies their first year that I just go with the flow. Sometimes Dom won’t nap long so he’ll want to snack more, or he’ll nap very long and throw everything off. I learned that routines work for my home. Bedtime is the only scheduled time that I stay firm on.
I hope these tips help create some serious foodies running rampant ❤