Betsy Kerekes shares her favorite tips for coaxing toddlers to eat.
I’m going to be straight with you: my toddler is not an easy one, especially when it comes to eating. Since adversity is the mother (and father) of invention, my husband and I have come up with some tricks to keep our child nourished. Even getting him to the table sometimes requires the ol’ “I’m going to get there first!” technique or offering to let him ride on our back. Once there, we often have to click the “open button” (his nose, “Beep!”) to get him to open his mouth. Beyond that, here are more inventions/interventions that may be helpful to fellow parents of reluctant eaters.
Add sound effects.
When trying to get my toddler to eat something he doesn’t want, I use sound effects, first while I’m eating, and then when I get him to try the proffered food item too. “Crunch crunch.” “Chew chew.” “Mrunf. Mrunf.” “Slurp slurp.” The more obnoxious you are, the better. He’s so entertained by the noises, he’ll eat the broccoli just to hear me make the sounds.
Play make believe.
Case in point: Little boy eating broccoli? Boring! A baby dinosaur devouring trees, trunk and all? Exciting! Some of those are summertime trees, some are winter trees covered in snow, a.k.a. cauliflower. Peas are moss-covered boulders -- the favored snack of giants! If your child is a fan of dragons, whatever his least favorite food is, wouldn’t you know it, is the most favorite food of dragons! You get the idea.
Bring easily-cleaned toys into the eating process. My son has small construction vehicles: a dump truck, bull dozer, scooper, and excavator (I learned that last name from him), which are experts at loading peas via the front loader, depositing them into the dump truck, which then, while you make the backing-up beeping sounds, dump the peas into his mouth. Eating vegetables has never been so fun!
Make it a contest.
When mixed vegetables are on the table (or his high chair tray, as the case may be), the other family members guess which vegetable will be eaten first. Dad guesses green beans, Sister says corn, Mom says carrots, etc. “Let’s see who’s going to win!” then look away while your child decides who’s going to win first, second, third place, etc. based on the order in which he throws back those accursed veggies. This slides easily into Step 5.
Say, “I’m not looking,” or, “I wonder what’s going to haaaaapppeeennn…” as you avert your eyes or hide your face behind your hand, occasionally peeking and saying, “Oh! What’s happening to the vegetables?! They’re disappearing! Where did they all go?” It sounds too easy, but it works.
Give snacks on the run … literally.
Despite our best efforts, our little guy often doesn’t fully fill his belly at dinner. Therefore, before bed, as he’s coursing around the house or yard, we set up the “gas station,” a chair or table containing his fuel or “energy pellets.” The bowl contains items like grapes, baby carrots, crackers, frozen peas, which are surprisingly good, etc. Every time he runs or bikes by, he needs to stop for fuel to keep up his energy. (As if!) Then, when his tummy is full, bedtime is much easier.
Maybe not all of these methods will work for you, and, undoubtedly, you have tricks up your own parental sleeves, but if you have a challenging one like we do, I hope some of these techniques will be helpful! Best of luck!
Copyright 2021 Betsy Kerekes
Images copyright 2021 Betsy Kerekes, all rights reserved
About the Author
Betsy Kerekes is the author of Be a Happier Parent or Laugh Trying (Our Sunday Visitor 2019) and coauthor with Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of 101 Tips for Marrying the Right Person (Ave Maria Press 2016) and 101 Tips for a Happier Marriage (Ave Maria Press 2013). She homeschools her four children and writes about her experiences in motherhood at ParentingIsFunny.wordpress.com.