The title of this post was almost going to be How to get Your Toddler to Eat Everything, but that sounded like a promise I wouldn’t be able to keep. And I’ve had to split it into two parts because, frankly, I have such a lot to say on the subject. Honestly, a large part of my day is spent thinking about ways to get Baba to eat something other than her four staples: cheese, tomatoes, kiwis and strawberries. And while we’re on the subject of my leading little lady, allow me to introduce you to Fia. As she says herself, she is not a Baba she is a Fia, so it’s time for the anonymity to be lifted.
Anyway, back to the puzzling matter at hand. Let’s face it, nobody can claim to be an expert in this since all children are different, and all we can do is share our experience and our ideas, try a few out and see what works best for our own personal situations. So here are a few of the ideas I’ve tried based on the bits of information I picked up along the way, with success measured by the ratio of food swallowed to food on walls/carpet/table/hair. That said, nothing is foolproof and although we humans are creatures of habit, we’re also moody bas***ds, so just because a child liked something yesterday, doesn’t guarantee they’ll like it today.
Despite all the bad press it gets, peer pressure can actually have a positive influence. I suppose a more optimistic name for peer pressure is leading by good example. And this doesn’t just apply to children – we’re all impressionable and open to positive influences, no matter how much we might resist. I myself am a case in point. After several years resisting the effervescent enthusiasm for running held by my husband and his family, I started doing a bit of running last year and have even signed up for a few 10k races over the next few months. Despite the disgustingly negative impact it seems to have had on the state of my feet, I can only hope it has had a positive impact on my general health and well-being. And now I can be part of the gang and chat about speed sessions, tempo runs and sub-20 5k races.
Similarly, Fia has been the subject of some positive peer pressure from her older cousins. Like most children, she wants anything that another child has, even if that thing is a deflated balloon with a straggly piece of wool tied to the end. Again, quite a common human trait that most of us have experienced. If someone else has or is interested in something, it instantly becomes more appealing to us. Why is that? At any rate, at a recent sleepover with her cousins, Fia ate a bowl of spaghetti bolognese, including the actual bolognese and not just the pasta. I told my sister-in-law it was high praise indeed for Fia to have finished her dinner and she replied that the recipe was from Derval O’Rourke, so I knew it had to have good stuff in it. Bonus – I could get Fia to eat this wholesome meal and she’d actually be happy to eat it.
Back at home though, it was a different story. Fia made tough work of it. She objected to the skins from the tomatoes, she didn’t like the peppers, and decided just to make do with the pasta. The missing ingredient? Her cousins. And maybe the fact that we changed the recipe a little. Once we’d ironed out the imperfections (no extra vegetables smuggled in, passata instead of tinned tomatoes), she was quite happy to eat it. I’ve come to the conclusion that eating something new for the first time can be less daunting and more enjoyable when done in company. So if you can, find/borrow some older siblings/cousins/random children who might be able to have a positive influence on your child. Adults don’t count. Think about your own parents lapping up their sprouts at Christmas, while you stared at your plate wishing yours would just disappear.
Get Them Involved
Another tactic touted by the experts is to get your child involved in the preparation of meals. Obviously, this is within reason. I don’t think your toddler is going to be peeling the potatoes or whipping up a soufflé, but I do agree that Fia likes to be included in the decision-making process. She gets to choose things like which shaped pasta we’ll have, or if we’ll drink water or milk. And I get her to help by fetching an onion or a carrot, or opening the bin so I can throw in the peelings.
This week I thought about how I could get her more involved. It’s tricky, especially in a small apartment with a small kitchen. We don’t have a kitchen table where she could sit up and take part. But we do have a coffee table where she stands to do all her colouring, and I reckoned I could do something to bring dinner preparation into her little world. I decided to get her to help me make pork meatballs.
A billion things went through my mind like how would she react when she touched the raw meat? What if she put her meaty hands in her mouth? What if she threw it around the place? What if pork mince got trampled into the new carpet? What if she knocked the bowl of water all over herself and the floor? Basically, there were so many things that could have gone wrong. But my worrying actually helped me to be very prepared. I put a towel on the table for easy absorption of any spills and easy clean up afterwards. I took the mince out of the fridge beforehand so it wouldn’t be too cold and shocking to the system when she stuck her hands in there. I had the oven trays lined and ready and I put only a tiny amount of water in a big bowl to keep our hands wet. Short of gagging her, there didn’t seem to be a way to avoid the risk of her putting raw meat in her mouth; I’d just have to be very vigilant.
She carefully watched me doing all this preparation and seemed genuinely intrigued. After scrubbing our hands, I showed her how to pull out a little bit of meat and roll it into a ball. She couldn’t quite master it, and seemed to prefer squishing it so it squirted out between all her fingers. But she was enjoying it so I didn’t make too much of a fuss and reshaped her meatballs while she wasn’t looking. She liked the feel of it (Oh it’s like a teddy Mammy. I checked – there was no fur), and she took great pride in placing them on the trays. When I made the tomato sauce to go with them she stirred the pot and licked the spoon, and when the meatballs were rolled from the oven into the pot of sauce, she wanted to be lifted up to see them go for a swim.
And the result was that she scoffed three meatballs and mopped up the sauce with some bread. And the next day we had the leftover meatballs with (Fia's choice) Peppa Pig pasta.
I was really chuffed with how well this worked, although I will say, planning and preparation are key here, and you have to have a bit of time on your hands – don’t do it on a day when you’re in a rush to get dinner done. Another great one for getting them involved is pizza. Make the base and put the sauce on and then get them to put on the toppings. They’ll be dying to taste their creations.
Next time we’ll talk about mealtimes and two easy-peasy recipes to add some fun to dinner time.
*Do you have a tried and tested method for getting your toddler to eat better? Why not share it with us in the comments below?