Feeding toddlers healthy food can seem like an endless struggle.
Their diverse eating habits and growth spurts can make for an unpredictable parenting challenge, and their tolerance to different flavors and textures can vary from day to day.
And as toddlers explore their independence with walking, socialization, getting dressed and eating, it can be tough to feed them healthy foods.
But take heart. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it can take 10-15 times of introduction of a food item before a child is willing to try it.
So, keep trying!
Instead of battling a toddler's strong will, use it to your advantage. Try these suggestions to help reduce the picky eater in your child:
· Take your toddler to the grocery store and tell him that he can pick out one new fruit or vegetable to try. Serve it to your child that same day, so the concept stays fresh in his or her mind. Read about that fruit or vegetable on a tablet while eating it.
· Model good eating patterns by eating a variety of healthy foods yourself.
· Do not label a food as "healthy" or "unhealthy". People naturally avoid the foods that are labeled "healthy".
· Avoid grocery store battles. Make sure your child is not hungry before you go to the store, bring along a snack for him to eat while you shop, or leave him or her at home if you can. Grocery stores intentionally put sugar-sweetened and processed "kid" food at child height. Marketing strategies capitalize on the "nag" factor to sell unhealthy foods.
· If possible, plant a garden and have you toddler help you care for it. Harvest the produce and enjoy! Children love eating from their own garden!
· Enlist your child's help to prepare meals. They can stir in ingredients, get items out of the refrigerator and help set or clear the table.
· Limit snacks to at least one hour after a meal or one hour before the start of a meal.
· Offer the same foods for the entire family. Don't fall into the trap of becoming a short-order chef.
· When offering a snack to your child, give him or her two options from which to choose. "Would you like a banana with peanut butter or apple and cheese slices?" Avoid open-ended questions such as, "What would you like to eat?" or "What are you hungry for?"
Some snack ideas include:
· Store cut-up vegetables in the refrigerator, such as multi-colored peppers, broccoli, cauliflower. Serve raw with hummus or low fat ranch dressing. Toddlers love to "dip and dunk".
· Mix popcorn, dried fruit and unsalted nuts and put in a small snack bag.
· Make a fruit and vegetable smoothie. Blend nonfat Greek yogurt with frozen fruit, thin with milk or 100 percent fruit juice.
· Serve apple slices with a nut butter or string cheese.
· Place avocado slices on top of a few whole wheat crackers.
· Crunch on a bowl of fresh beans.
· Top nonfat plain yogurt with fresh or frozen berries and one tablespoon of granola.
· Keep hard cooked eggs on hand in the refrigerator.
· Wrap low sodium deli meat around an apple wedge or celery stick.
· Freeze nonfat flavored Greek yogurt in a small paper or Styrofoam cup with a Popsicle stick in the middle. Enjoy as a frozen yogurt treat on a warm day
· Make a personal pizza. Start with a whole wheat English muffin, top with tomato sauce, shredded low fat cheese and cut-up vegetables for toppings. Bake, cut up into quarters and enjoy!
· Use celery, cucumber strips or carrot sticks as the basis for bugs on a log. Top with low-fat cream cheese, and then add raisins or another dried fruit to be the "bugs".
· Peel a banana, cut in half, put a Popsicle stick in the middle and freeze. Once frozen, enjoy as a dessert.
Remember, picky eating is usually a temporary phase. More than ever, this can be an important time in a child's life to feed your child nutrient dense superfoods to pack a powerful nutrition punch. Model good eating behaviors and use some creativity to get your child to try new fruits and vegetables or other healthy snacks.■
Sadhana Bienzen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who enjoys cooking for her husband and four children. Contact her at email@example.com with your questions.