Tricking Toddlers into eating Healthy Food

No doubt you have heard the expression – the terrible two’s. Well… if ever there was an understatement. After you’ve finished crying over your precious baby’s first steps and first words, there is a sudden change to the atmosphere in your house – and it is exhausting.

Out of nowhere, your bundle of joy has become a supercharged velociraptor that seems hell-bent on destruction, noise, mess and robbing you of all sanity. But there’s one area in particular that almost nullified any pheromones you might have been enjoying – feeding time.

We all know children can be super picky, but the second you make the mistake of giving them a taste of beige foods, it’s all they’ll ever eat. Any attempts at fruit and vegetables will be smeared on the floor, spat out, thrown at your face and of course come accompanied with hysterics worthy of the Royal Opera House. Every meal becomes a Mexican standoff and anything but pasta, bread and cheese will result in full out war. 

A healthy diet is super important and especially at such a young age. Kids grow so fast and to ensure healthy bones, teeth, eyes and everything else, they must get some healthy nutrients in their system. Not to mention, it’s very important to start teaching good habits as early as possible. If they get used to only eating beige food, they’re far less likely to try eating healthier when they’re older, plus it’s a matter of discipline. They can’t think throwing a tantrum will get their way every time.

Fortunately, kids are stupid, and the terrible two’s are the perfect time to take advantage of their young ignorance and gullibility. There are a few tricks of the trade you can employ to get your toddler to eat more healthily, without resorting to violence or therapy. 

Disguise the food

Most kids decide whether or not they’ll eat something upon first looking at it – it’s like love at first sight. They see so much as a glint of broccoli and instantly put up a brick wall. So cook what you normally would for them – rice, pasta or a sandwich – but add the extra healthy bit, just in a way that they either can’t tell or can’t easily pick out. Finely chop up broccoli or peas and mix them into the pasta or rice and then add the sauce or cheese on top. The kid will see the “good” bits on the surface and instantly tuck in, not realising they’re spooning up some vitamins along the way. Another genius recipe is to make homemade chicken nuggets – but with a vegetable twist. Puree some veggies, like carrots and courgettes and mix in bread crumbs – then coat diced cooked chicken in the mixture and pop in the oven. On the surface, it looks like a regular chicken nugget, but with an extra helping of greens your child won’t be able to identify

Turn it into a Game

This is trickier with more willful children, but distraction and entertainment are great ways to end the vegetable embargo. One for you, one for me can work quite well. As in, daddy eats a piece of carrot, baby eats a piece of carrot. Or, when you have multiple offspring, whoever finishes their whole meal first gets a prize, like their choice of a bedtime story or an extra 10 mins of cartoons. Rewards might not always be the best idea, but if it gets them to ingest something with chlorophyll, that’s already a win. 

Change family habits

One of the most effective ways of getting a child to be on board with fruits and veggies from the start is to have collective family meal time. This can be tricky, depending on your work schedules, but it works wonders. If parents and children are eating the exact same food, the kids can see their parents enjoying it and will be far less distrustful to try new things. Go out of your way to make yummy noises as well – some brainwashing can be useful. Also, remove “naughty” foods as an option. Make sure your kids don’t see any sweets or carbs and make it a form of habit that this – ie the healthy prepared meal – is the only option. If the parents want to indulge in something, make sure to do it behind your toddler’s back to avoid temptation! It’s best to avoid punishment for not eating certain foods because then your child might associate meal times as a negative experience and instantly go on the defensive. Family meal times have other behavioural benefits as well.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world – anyone that thinks otherwise has clearly never tried it or are in complete denial – so of course, the easier we can make life for ourselves the better, but don’t get too complacent and indulge your toddler’s every whim. We do not negotiate with terrorists – we outsmart them. And then have some wine once they’re asleep!

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