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Getting Toddlers to Eat… the Right Way

July 2, 2012

I’d like to say I was surprised.  But I can’t.  There it was in pretty white lettering in one of the most influential parenting magazines in the country.  Add sugar and your children will like vegetables.  Oh sure, you can wean them off of it, but in the meantime, just add sugar.

I don’t usually editorialize anywhere, and certainly not here, but I just couldn’t help it.  I look around at the ever expanding waistlines of our society, and even those of our children, and I wonder how anyone, in good conscience, can advise parents to just add sugar.  Now, I know that the struggle over getting kids to eat good nutrition is difficult.  And I know that I am far from having finished the race.  But I also have two toddlers (two and a half and three and a half) who love vegetables, who eat virtually anything put in front of them, and who get excited on the three or so nights a week that dinner is an entree salad.  They adore hearty soups full of nutrition, steamed vegetables, or omelets full of diced up goodness.  They get more excited about a pile of raspberries in a cup than a spoon full of ice cream.  Does this make me an expert?  Absolutely not.  But perhaps it gives me some small amount of credibility when I say that it is absolutely unnecessary to just add sugar to get kids to eat good food.

First of all, we (the parents) eat lots of good, healthy food.  Kids do what they see, and we have always tried to model the nutrition we want them to have to the best of our abilities.  And we have also always given them our food to share.  We do not order them a fried chicken kids meal and then order ourselves a nutritious entree.  Portions are big enough as it is–we share our food with them.  Some day, when they get old enough to need their own plate I feel fairly confident they will order the same foods they happily dig into now.  They have also been exposed to tastes from many different cultures, since we do not order them separate kid’s meals.  They know flavors from every corner of the globe, and love them.  My two year old is addicted to spicy foods.  She adores anything with hot sauce on it.  But most of all, there is hardly a food they won’t try and almost always do they enjoy everything they try.  Their tastes are open and willing to experiment.

Now, don’t get me wrong, they love french fries.  We do not ban any food, including ice cream, french fries, pizza or hamburgers.  And I definitely depend on frozen pizzas to provide dinner once in awhile.  But they eat far more entree salads and thick hearty soups than they do hamburgers or chicken fingers.  We believe that the outright banning of foods makes them more appealing, so we strive to teach them by example that these things are occasional foods.  And many of our “treats” are hardly lacking in nutrition.  One of my daughters’ favorite desserts is organic plain yogurt mixed with some homemade, home-canned strawberry or blueberry sauce.  Just a drizzle of homemade sauce is all that is necessary to add wonderful flavor, and the sugar content ends up being so much lower than any commercially sweetened yogurt.

Getting toddlers to eat healthy foods involves tremendous amounts of patience, perseverance and yes, that dreaded word, discipline.  More than once my daughter’s received their untouched plates back for their next meal, instead of the next set of food.  More than one snack was presented as the cold carrots still left from lunch.  It didn’t take many times like this for our daughters to realize that we were serious, and we were willing to enforce.  Serious battles only erupted about twice each girl.  The storm of pickiness was weathered and the war was won.

And the rules didn’t change no matter where we were.  Insufficiently eaten foods from restaurants were happily packed up and carted home for left-over snacks, reinforcing the idea that normal was to eat what is given to you. “If you try it, you’ll like it,” became the mantra of our household in those precarious times when our daughters were determining if they would become picky-eaters or not.

To this day, most vegetables in our house are served in a salad, in a soup, or steamed and plain on the side of the dish.  No sugar, no extra butter, no cheese sauce, and no ketchup necessary.  And they are happily consumed.  My youngest has on many occasion even forgone foods one would think a toddler more likely to dive into for the joy of finishing her mixed vegetables.  Watching her eat a few bites of dessert, then push aside the bowl to finish scraps of broccoli has filled me with more motherly pride than I can express.

I don’t mean to over-simplify or nullify the legitimate battles of well-meaning parents in homes all around me.  Nor do I mean to make it sound like magic.  It has been nothing like magic.  It has been a deliberate, sometimes incredibly challenging, focused battle fought to indoctrinate our children with a few simple ideas:

1) good food is natural food

2) all food is worth trying

3) most food tried is well-rewarded by a newly acquired taste

4) pickiness will not be tolerated–food is to be gratefully received and eaten

No sugar necessary.

From → Food, Motherhood

  1. Agreed! Adding sugar to cooking water?! Why not just put maple syrup right on their broccoli? I get that they are suggesting a small amount, but why not let our kids learn to appreciate other flavors as well. Kudos to you.

    • Thanks so much. Totally, I agree. In the long run, adding sugar is just going to backfire. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  2. I do not even know the way I ended up here, but I assumed this put up
    used to be good. I don’t know who you’re but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger for those who are not already. Cheers!

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