Food is important to our family. We spend a lot of time growing it, preserving it, preparing it and, yes, eating it. When I had my daughter I knew I wanted joie de vivre to be a part of her existence in everything, including food. I want her to grow a strong and healthy body that can take her on all sorts of adventures. As she is a girl, I also know she will eventually face struggles with body image, which is something I want to help prepare her for. Consequently, I knew I didn’t want her to be a picky eater.
This is my daughter eating spicy meat on a stick in Thailand. Without a qualm. Please note that this post contains affiliate links. These help support GWR at no cost to you. Thanks!
Since she was born I have been doing what I can to help my daughter eat well, eat nutritiously, and eat diversely.
Here are some of the steps we have taken to help make sure our daughter isn’t a picky eater.
1. She gardens and cooks with us
Since she was small our daughter has been involved in bringing food to the table. Now that she is two she likes to stand on a chair and help with mixing and adding of ingredients. She is always excited to eat the fruit of our labour, or to share it with guests. We are also blessed to have a space to garden. There isn’t much she likes better than finding ripe strawberries or plump green peas. She can even identify most vegetable plants from carrots to peppers.
Our daughter is also somewhat exposed to butchering at the farm. I know this is not an aspect that most children can, or even should, experience, but it does demonstrate how willing we are to have our child involved in all areas of food production.
2. We didn’t give sugar for the first year, and still limit it
I developed gestational diabetes while pregnant. Thankfully I was able to completely control it using diet and exercise, but it did cause me to think about my relationship with sugar, and what that could mean for my baby. My husband and I decided that we would not allow any added sugar into her diet for the first year.
The hardest part was actually educating those around us that they should not put ice cream into our infant. Because she had never tried sugar our daughter was perfectly happy with watermelon. I have also heard that people develop most of their taste preferences in the first two years of their lives. Either way, I saw no harm on helping my daughter learn to appreciate flavours besides to all-too-prevalent sweet.
We travelled to Asia when our daughter was nearly two, so we relaxed somewhat on the sugar front. By her birthday we were allowing occasional treats. I also didn’t want to forbid any foods as she grew, which would only make them more enticing.
3. We try to be positive food role models
My husband and I will eat almost anything. This is both good and bad. While neither of us is a picky eater, we do have to put in a little extra effort to make sure we are modelling healthy eating habits to our toddler.
Planning meals, and eating them together, is the best way I know of to set a healthy example. Doing so means that our daughter is interacting with us during dinner, and observing our positive relationship with healthy foods. It’s important that I leave time to cook, and to prepare something that is nutritious. I also keep ingredients like whole wheat spaghettini around for times when we need something quick. I simply never buy items like boxed mac’n cheese, pre-made pizza, or microwave meals. If these items are around they are too easy to grab.
4. We trust that she is in tune with her body’s needs
My toddler is a little bit phase-y when it comes to food. Sometimes she will devour all the broccoli or green beans that I put on her plate. At other times she cannot seem to get enough red meat. I believe that because she doesn’t have sweets, and is limited in other treats, she is adept at regulating her own nutrient needs. My toddler also has days where she eats as much as I do, and others where food is much less interesting to her. As long as she is meeting her milestones, and is offered healthy food regularly, I don’t worry.
Of course I do sometimes “hide” the veggies, even if my daughter watches me do it. This is a great way to pack nutrients into a food—even for adults. Spinach is one of the easiest to include in smoothies, baking, and sauces.
5. She eats what we eat and is never offered an alternative
When I make a meal then we eat that meal as a family. My daughter is always served a small portion of whatever we are eating. If she resists eating , which is rare, I don’t push it. I will encourage her to eat some bites. I will never offer her another food to try coerce her to eat. We don’t usually have dessert, so that is not a motivator. I do serve her milk or water at meals if we are having something like kombucha.
Often I will offer her toddler-friendly snacks between meals, especially if she didn’t eat much previously. Favourites for my 2-year-old include seaweed snacks, crackers with cheese, apple slices, or healthy popsicles like these.
6. Eating is not a stressful experience
My daughter is not a picky eater, but she is a slow eater. Instead of rushing her through a meal I have learned to allot time for her to sit and munch/play until she feels that she’s finished. As much as possible I avoid nagging, coercing, or bribing her to eat. I do require that she try bites of the veg on her plate before she gets more of her favorite (which, in her case, is usually meat or whole wheat noodles).
My daughter really enjoys sitting down to a meal, and always asks for us to eat along with her. We don’t allow her to play with toys at the table. When we are out she is often distracted and doesn’t eat as well. In this case, we just offer her a healthy alternative once we are home.
7. What about when she doesn’t like something?
Despite all the things she does eat, my toddler doesn’t like onions.
Despite all the things I eat, I don’t like parsnips.
I know. I said I’m not a picky eater, but parsnips are the one vegetable I just can’t bring myself to enjoy. So while there are times where I do eat them, I don’t cook with them and avoid them when I can.
That’s how my daughter feels about onions, and I just don’t worry about it. As long as she’s occasionally willing to try them then I generally allow her to take them out of her dish. It’s not worth the fight or the negative food associations.
Want another great resource for your picky eater?
Do you have a picky eater? If you want to get more in depth to conquer unhealthy habits for your child I recommend the e-book Zero to Hero Nutrition: How to Actually get Kids to Eat Healthy Food. Author Christina Kamp has been caring for kids in her daycare for over 20 years. During that time she has helped the children in her charge to grow and eat healthy, wholesome food.
Zero to Hero Nutrition is chock full of tips, recommendations, and shared experience in regards to nutrition for children. If you’re serious about changing habits and helping your child grow with healthy eating, it is well worth the small investment. There are also lots of recipes and a meal-plan menu to help you get started.