What’s for dinner?
This is my least favorite question. Not because I hate meal planning or I hate cooking. Because I am knee deep in the toddler years, which means that there are very few foods that everyone in my house will eat. We are down to a very short list of foods that my daughter considers acceptable, and all are bland in flavor and monochromatic.
I get it. Way back in the day, when humans were hunter-gatherers, kids were responsible for feeding themselves from an early age. Bright colored berries and odd-colored meat signaled that a food was unsafe to eat. Better to stick to foods that have bland flavors and colors. That way you can stay alive. Nutrients and vitamins? Who cares? Just being alive is reward enough!
I try to sympathize with the biology behind my daughter’s pickiness. I really do. But I also can’t help but become incredibly frustrated when she won’t try something new, because my husband and I are… dare I say it… foodies. We will try anything at least once, love a variety of flavors and cuisines, and are not afraid to push boundaries when in the kitchen. Even before she started eating solid foods, I dreamed of our daughter joining us on our culinary adventures. I wanted her to relish trips to Aurora to stock up on Korean spices, and enjoy outings to the newest, most interesting restaurants in LoDo.
Unfortunately, right now, she seems pretty satisfied to chow down on mac & cheese, bagels, and graham crackers.
Baby steps (and baby bites).
When my daughter started eating solids, she was a brave and adventurous eater. She didn’t love everything, but was willing to give an assortment of fruits and vegetables a try. I loved her interest in a wide variety of flavors and textures. I intentionally started healthy and diverse, figuring that if I trained her palate early, we’d end up with a kid who was as big a foodie as I was.
Then the toddler phase hit.
Suddenly, my daughter’s interest in a variety of interesting and healthy foods dried up almost overnight. She no longer wanted to eat peas, sweet potatoes, beets, avocados, spinach, or bananas… if it wasn’t a simple carbohydrate, it didn’t interest her.
Bringing Back the Baby Bites
I will admit. It’s incredibly easy and tempting to give into my daughter’s whims, and let her eat exactly what she wants.
However, in the back of my head, I still hang onto my goal of making us a family of foodies. (I also worry about her nutritional intake from a health perspective, but that’s a given as a mom!) So I refuse to fully give in. I am still hopeful that I will get her to love fun flavors and textures just the way that her father and I do.
Tricking a Toddler into Eating Better
I’ve started relying on a few tips and tricks in order to get her to try some different flavors and healthy foods to make progress towards our goal.
First off, I always try and add one ingredient to her meal that brings with it interesting flavors or textures. Sometimes I try and hide these things in her main dish – like making mac & cheese with roast cauliflower in place of pasta. Or I’ll give her an interesting fruit on the side that has some zing – pomegranate seeds or kiwi, for example.
I also always try and offer a variety of foods. She does surprise me with what she will try and when she will briefly give up on carbs. The other day, we went out for Japanese food, and although I was skeptical she would like it, we offered her pickled ginger. She loved it! Success!
I’m also determined never to make a separate dinner just for her. If the flavors in the meal I’m preparing for the family are a tad too intense, I’ll try and tone them down for her, but figure that she can at least try what we are eating. I can’t make her like it, but I can hope she’ll at least give it a try!
Will she be an adventurous eater?
I wish I could see into the future to answer this question, because the answer is I don’t know. I do know that I am currently doing all that I can to introduce her to a variety of flavors, spices, and cuisines.
The main thing I’ve learned is that I can’t make her eat foods she doesn’t want to. She’s her own person, with her own tastes and preferences (even though I currently find them boring and bland). Maybe some day we will all go on fabulous food adventures as a family, or maybe our adventures will focus on something other than food. And that will be okay (even if I may be a tad disappointed)!
I have been very lucky with my son. He is 20 months old and is a very adventurous eater. I have offered him everything we eat ever since he was able to handle more complex foods. I haven’t run into any pickiness yet which I subscribe to baby led weaning, encouragement to try everything food wise, and a lot of luck in particular temperament of my child. I expect it will get more difficult as he gets older. Keep up the good fight Emma, it sounds like you are doing everything right to raise an adventurous eater.