In retrospect, I refer to it as ‘the white stage’. It was the period of time when Grace’s diet seemed to be entirely white. And the less nutrients the food had in it, the more she ate. As opposed to the nutrient rich, colourful and laborious dishes I’d been trying to tempt her with. I even bought a toddler cookbook (why?!).
Our days were filled with all things white – toast, plain pasta, yogurt, rice crackers.
Instinctively I knew she wasn’t eating well. She certainly wasn’t eating like me. And that just didn’t feel right to me. So I ditched the toddler cookbook. I braced myself for the tantrums. And I just started to cook the food that I loved.
I’ve always wanted to enjoy food together, as a family. And also, secretly, make things a little easier on myself. I have friends with school age kids who are still cooking 2-3 different dinners each night, to suit the fussy tastebuds of their kids.
I just had no desire to go down that road. And I knew we were heading in that direction with the white diet.
So I cooked. And we sat down for dinner every night, as a family, at the dining table. And Grace was served what we ate. Roast chicken. Salads. Brown rice. Cous cous. Roasted vegetables. Olives. Steak. Unsweetened Greek yogurt. Salmon. Everything!
And there were tantrums. And declarations of ‘I don’t like that’ before the food had even touched her plate. But I persisted. And I just kept serving her up our food, day after day. Eating with her; the same foods.
And lo and behold….slowly she’s embraced food in all of its glory.
My little girl eats all of the foods that she gets the chance to. Often she won’t like something straight away. Sometimes never (sweet potato – she’s missing out). But I keep trying. I figure she’ll like it eventually, after enough tries.
And we’re now at the point where I had so wanted to be – of having an adventurous, enthusiastic eater. A child who can go to a cafe or restaurant and eat happily from the menu. And most importantly, she’s learning to love food for itself, but hopefully, eventually, for what it represents – that special, happy (sometimes shouty- she is 4) time of day when she and her Mum, Dad and little sister sit together, eat and catch up on the day that’s passed. Because for me, food and family are intertwined. And hopefully Grace will grow up to feel that way too.
My top tips for getting your toddler to eat more than just plain pasta:
1. Eat together as a family – kids love to model behaviour and there’s no better role models at this age than Mum and Dad.
2. Try and try again – if she doesn’t like something, don’t write it off forever. Keep popping it on her plate intermittently and one day she WILL eat it, and perhaps even enjoy it.
3. You’re not a short order cook – my girls eat what we eat as a family. If they don’t want to eat it, that’s ok. But I’m not going to jump up and cook them something different. This is it, dinner is served. A piece of fruit for dessert and that’s that. Kids are surprisingly resilient and won’t let themselves go hungry.
4. When introducing a new food, always pair it with something you know she likes. For example, I cooked salmon fillets the other night for dinner. We ate it with some of Grace’s favourites – brown rice, red capsicum and some cheese. A few suspicious sniffs of the salmon but then she watched us eating it, and tucked into it herself. Helped along by her favourite things already on her plate.
5. Don’t hide veggies. I’m not sold on recipes that promise to hide veggies so kids will, for example, unwittingly consume beetroot while they’re eating a brownie. That’s a missed opportunity to introduce them to the gorgeousness of beetroot as is. If kids are going to grow up liking vegetables, they actually need to eat the vegetable in its basic form. And like it. And honestly, if I’m going to eat a brownie, I want it to be a brownie. Full of butter and chocolate. But that’s another story altogether. Hiding veggies will not help your little one to be a veggie lover.
6. Always eat dessert – but you might need to rethink your definition of dessert. In our family, dessert is a piece of fruit or Greek yogurt with a drizzle of honey. Yet every night when I ask ‘who wants dessert?’ the girls scream yes. Knowing it’s fruit or pretty much plain yogurt. I just think it’s good to wind back on the sugar, to bring more fruit into their diet and also for them to have such a positive view of simple, whole foods.
Feeding kids can feel like a battlefield some days. But I think we all have the same goal – to raise happy, healthy eaters. So hang in there, persist and enjoy the small wins of sharing new foods with your little ones. Bon appetit x