Cookbook for Finicky Toddlers
Many parents stress out about feeding their toddler, but these food tips will help with fussy toddlers.
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Benjamin Lund--a mac-and-cheese-Spaghettios-and-pretzels kind of guy--suspiciously eyes the dish in front of him.
There's broccoli in there--scary stuff.
His big brown eyes widen as he tentatively takes one bite--and then scoops up bite after bite of broccoli artfully camouflaged inside rice, chicken and cheese.
Pointing to his empty plate, he gleefully calls out, "Ahhhh," the 23-month-old's equivalent of a four-star review.
If a clean plate wasn't surprising enough for the boy his mother calls "the pickiest eater on Earth," then consider this: five other toddler taste testers seated at the table at Sunny Days, a day-care center in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mount Lebanon, are also happily eating Cheddar Chicken and Broccoli Casserole.
No one fidgets or throws vegetables.
Score one for the Baby Bistro Cookbook, a down-to-earth new book that has interesting kid-friendly recipes for the whole family.
Many parents stress out about feeding their toddler--and unnecessarily so, says Ann Condon-Meyers, a registered dietitian in the clinical nutrition department at Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
"A lot of parents are trying too hard," she says. "They are putting a negative stigma on eating."
One mistake that well-intentioned parents make is to keep running back to the kitchen for another healthful dish every time a child refuses something.
"Jumping up and down like a jack-in-the-box is counterproductive," Condon-Meyers says. "Why not let your children listen to their own appetite?"
And Joohee Muromcew, author of the Baby Bistro Cookbook, (Rodale, 2003), advises parents not to cook a separate meal for their toddler but to give their children "a dumbed-down" version--less spicy ones--of what the parents are eating.
"If you have time to cook for yourselves, you have time to cook for your children. I have a friend, who is a foodie, who gives her child canned bananas. How hard is it to take a banana from the counter and mash it?
"Parents just have a psychological hurdle about making baby food. Parents just need simple ideas that are not intimidating."
Muromcew, a San Francisco-based food and fashion writer and mother of 3-year-old Alexei, came up with some good ideas because she was turned off by jarred baby foods. "Turkey and rice looked and tasted the same as the apricot."
Her first attempts at homemade baby food--pureed tofu and peas--were so bland, Alexei wouldn't eat it. So she decided to give him simpler renditions of the food she liked to cook.
The results are impressive: Alexei regularly feasts on baby ratatouille, Swedish Meatballs and Pumpkin Ravioli. Other parents were looking into his lunch pail and asking how to cook for their babies and toddlers. Hence the inspiration.
Alexei may be an adventurous eater, but other kids seem to be born picky. Like Benjamin Lund, who turns up his nose not just at all green vegetables, but even ice cream and other sweets.
"He will not eat what we eat," says his mother, Michelle Lund, of Mount Lebanon. "We would like to get him into the habit. He used to eat canned carrots, but now, it is like, 'No, I don't think so.' "
Lund admits she is a picky eater, too.
There is a genetic component to how fussy your child is, according to Amy Galloway, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of human development and family studies at Penn State University. But you can nudge your child to try new foods--if you have plenty of patience.
Start early. Like most things in life, it's much easier to get a 1-year-old than a 2-year-old to try new foods.
A 1-year-old might have to be exposed to a new food eight to 10 times before accepting it, Galloway says.
But by the time they turn 2, the age when "no" is a favorite word and kids are feeding themselves, it can take up to 15 tries for a child to accept the new food.
"How many parents are going to try 15 times?" asks Galloway, a researcher for the Girls' Nutrition Early Experience and Development Study Project at Penn State. "But you need to give it to them over and over."
In general, breast-fed babies are less fussy than ones who were bottle-fed, Galloway says. One study shows that boys tend to be pickier than girls.
A child served a variety of foods tends to be a better eater. "A child exposed to apples all the time is more picky than a child exposed to apples, oranges and bananas," Galloway says.
But parents should not get too hung up on a set menu plan with a different vegetable every day of the week, says Judy Dodd, a registered dietitian on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh's department of clinical dietetics and nutrition.
"If a kid likes green beans and carrots, don't force the carrots. If they like cantaloupe, they will still get their vitamin A."
Respect the fact that 2-year-olds often go on food jags, Dodd says. "They may only eat chicken and corn for a week. Suddenly they don't want to eat chicken and corn. They want hamburger and peanut butter. You have to respect the jags. They outgrow them."
Some dietitians recommend putting a new vegetable on the plate and not pressuring a child to eat it. This way you avoid turning a meal into a power struggle.
Condon-Meyers even recommends putting a cookie on the plate next to the sandwich, an idea that makes some parents cringe. But it makes the sweet less of a reward. "If you tell them, 'If you eat this, you get dessert,' you have just increased the value of the second thing tenfold."
Babies are born with a natural predisposition to like sweets, and, Galloway says, you can't prevent a sweet tooth. But you can prevent them from demanding a lot of candy, dietitians say, if you don't keep it in the house.
Toddlers love imitating their parents, so you will be more likely to get them to eat a variety of vegetables and fruit if you sit down and eat with them, nutritionists say.
What their peers pull out of their lunch pails also influences a child. If your child rates a food, such as broccoli, as negative but sits next to other children who rate it more highly, then your child will view broccoli more favorably.
That might explain why our five toddler testers at Sunny Days, a cheery, red, barn-shaped building, are all munching a cheese and broccoli dish with gusto. "They take eating very seriously here," says Lori Czyzewski, an ebullient teacher.
Parents, who usually alternate two or three menus in their children's lunch bags, are always looking for variety and healthful menu suggestions.
The cookbook has plenty of fresh ideas--including recipes you might not think of as kid-friendly, such as Baby Ghanouj, Shepherd's Pie and Pumpkin Ravioli.
Our toddler testers give mixed reviews to the ravioli, which were more labor-intensive than the super-easy broccoli casserole. The ravioli are boiled in small batches, which is not hard, unless, of course, you have a 2-year-old tugging at your legs.
Though Abby DeLallo, a 21-month-old who begs her parents for peas, is happily slurping the pumpkin filling out of the wonton wrapper, others just stare blankly at this dish. Only one girl eats the ravioli, wonton shell and all.
The group only perked up again once a not-too-sweet dessert of banana bars is placed in front of them.
"They all love bananas," Czyzewski says.
The beauty of this recipe is that it is sweet, though it only has a half-cup of sugar for the entire pan--much less than in homemade cookies and far less than you find in store-bought sweets. But the recipe requires very ripe bananas.
Muromcew's most foolproof recipes are Chicken Nuggets and Swedish Meatballs. She has yet to find a kid who won't eat them.
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