Guest Post: Tactics for Your Finicky Toddlers
This is the third post in a five-part series written by students in the University of Texas’ Nutrition Through the Life Cycle class. The author of this post, Kayleigh Pippen, is a Nutrition Sciences Pre-med student at UT. This article discusses fun and easy ways to get kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.
It’s widely understood that infants and toddlers have a high nutrient demand for healthy growth and development. These early years can set the trajectory for their overall health and well being for years to come, so it’s vital for them to get ample fruits, whole grains, protein, and vegetables.
Statistics show that many toddlers are not getting ample amounts of nutrient-dense vegetables in their diets. In a 2008 study of infant and toddler intake of fruits and vegetables, an average of about 20% of toddlers weren’t consuming a single vegetable in a day. Of those that did, 40% of the consumed vegetables were white potatoes and 25% were French fries or other fried potatoes. A mere 7.8% of consumption was from dark green vegetables that provide many essential vitamins.
A huge problem with toddler nutrition is that toddlers often have very sensitive taste preferences, and they can be especially picky when it comes to eating vegetables. So how should parents get these choosey little ones to consume vitamin-rich vegetables? Get creative!
Tactic 1: “The Sneak Attack”
An advantage parents have is that they prepare the food. During preparation, vegetables can easily be incorporated into kid-friendly foods. This can be done using any kind of vegetables. The key is camouflage. For example, adding pureed cauliflower and/or squash to macaroni and cheese.
NurturMe products make this easy. With options such as Hearty Sweet Potatoes, Plump Peas, Scrumptious Squash, and Crunchy Carrots, all in a convenient, dry powder-like form, incorporating healthy vegetables into your child’s meal is simple and fast. Disguising these ingredients in foods that kids like boosts their vegetable intake while avoiding the creation of a negative attitude towards food.
Tactic 2: Get kids involved
Both procurement and preparation of food can be exciting and fun for toddlers. Getting them involved with the process can make trying the final product a pleasant and desirable experience, as well as help them develop cognitive and physical skills. You can involve a child even further by working together to plant a small garden, and growing and eating your own vegetables. This activity can help encourage trying new vegetables and provides a fun new element to food in general.
Tactic 3: Timing
Parents should provide vegetable options when their tots are hungry. Children are more likely to eat vegetables when they are hungry than after they’ve had other options to choose from. Easy options are cold fresh veggies, provided with a low fat dip to mask any bitterness and to make eating the veggies more interesting and tasty.
Tactic 4: Perception is everything
Another way to make food fun and appealing to kids is to rename and reshape vegetables. Encourage children to make up wild “nicknames” for vegetables, and you can cut fresh vegetables into fun shapes.
Having an exciting presentation of the veggies can help too. This particular method is increasingly popular in Japan: Parents create a “bento” (packed lunch) for their child to take to school that contains food that is artfully arranged into shapes like animals, familiar objects, and cartoon characters. Kids love games and anything creative, so take advantage of their vivid imaginations.
Many other tactics exist. It doesn’t matter which ones parents use, as long as their toddlers are both consuming enough vegetables and maintaining a positive relationship with food. Major physical growth and cognitive development take place during the early years of a child’s life; providing proper nutrition is vital to enabling kids to reach their full potential.