What June eats – and my best toddler eating tips

5 June 2018

Generally, I don’t feel comfortable handing out parenting advice — after all, I’ve only had one test subject so far, and what worked for her clearly might not be universally-sound advice! (On that note, it will be interesting to see whether any of our successful tactics are reproducible with number two — will keep you posted, I’m sure :))

But, I know that I love learning from the experiences of people I trust, even if I usually adapt their advice for our situation. That’s the heart of where this post is coming from — not offering a prescription to get your toddler to eat well, but offering some insight into what has worked for us!

Because as luck or intention would have it, we have a very good eater on our hands. June is a more adventurous eater than I am, in many ways, and so far we have not encountered more than mild skirmishes over food at the dinner table. While I’m sure this is in part due to her nature, I think we set her (and ourselves) up for success in a few ways. That’s what I wanted to chat about today, so let’s dive into four things that have worked for us!

eating with toddlers

1. We all eat the same meal at the same time. From about 15 months on, June has been eating the same meal as John and I at the same time, sometimes in a slightly different form (like, we might drain most of the broth out of a soup, or give her all of a salad’s fixings without the lettuce). From about one year to 15 months, she ate some purees, some of our food, and some additions (like Greek yogurt or Cheerios), and would often eat with us but sometimes eat earlier if we couldn’t get dinner on the table fast enough :)

If she refused a food, we would encourage her to try it, but never forced her to. We also never offered her another option if she DID refuse a food (she never refused a dinner entirely). In fact, to this day, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even realize that’s an option, since she’s just never seen it done! I think through the visual of John and I eating the same thing as her day in and day out, she very quickly learned that that’s simply how it works in our house.

2. She has eaten adventurously from the beginning. Indian food, pickled vegetables, asparagus, spinach in pasta, chick pea shawarma, beef stew… these have all been a part of her diet, in some form or another, from the time she started eating solid food. Even in utero, she was exposed to a variety of (spicy!) things through my diet, which probably didn’t hurt! Of course, there are things she doesn’t love and will refuse (chunks of meat can be enemy number one), but for the most part, she is game for a wide variety of textures, flavors, and compositions because it’s all she’s known.

3. We don’t keep things in the house we don’t want her to eat, and we don’t eat things in front of her we won’t let her have. I’m sometimes gently confused by parents who complain about their kiddos eating this or that — after all, aren’t we the ones with the money and car to go to the grocery store? Like screen time, we try to cut off potential disagreements at the source by simply not bringing food we don’t want June eating into our house (juice, for example).

Likewise, if John is eating chips and salsa before dinner while June is playing next to him, I don’t think it’s fair to expect her NOT to want to join in – so it’s on us to either make sure she’ll still be hungry enough to eat dinner if she joins in, or to pack up the bag (despite our own wants) if she won’t be.

On the subject of desserts: you all know I have a sweet tooth :) If John and I want to have a dessert (especially because, you know, #pregnant), we will have it after June goes to bed. She has her fair share of sweet things – when we have guests over, for a special family treat, at a birthday party, etc. – and we’ll never NOT let her partake in a dessert that’s happening in front of her. On a regular basis, though, we keep them out of sight.

4. We encourage snacking while cooking. June is very into helping me cook these days, and often wants to taste ingredients or snack on the raw vegetables she sees me chopping. I am all for this — first of all, because raw things generally have the most nutrients, and second of all, because I think having a hand in the prep (even if limited to taste-testing!) piques her interest in and buy-in for the final version of the meal.

To wrap up, I know our experience is not relevant for everyone — maybe your kiddo has an allergy that precludes her from eating the same meal as you, or maybe you can’t eat dinner all together due to your schedules. Likewise, I’m sure you could do all these things and still end up with a selective eater. Either way, I hope these thoughts at least give you some ideas if you’re a little bit behind us in your parenting journey!

And now, let’s all cross our fingers that baby boy loves food as much as June does :)

P.S. Because I know some of you were curious after I mentioned June eats pretty much the same thing for breakfast and lunch every day, here are our go-tos. Breakfast is oatmeal (sometimes with berries or chopped fruit) and water. Lunch at school is milk, either a turkey and cheese quesadilla made on our Griddler or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread, plus three of the following: applesauce; berries/chopped fruit; goldfish; carrots, bell pepper sticks, or cherry tomatoes (sometimes with hummus); and plain graham crackers. There are wild cards sometimes, but those are the staples :)

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June 5, 2018 8:45 am

These are AWESOME tips my friend – and the first one is our most important!!!
We always eat with our girls and they eat what we eat… As they have got older, the soda debate is a tough one (why do we drink it and not them!) but we have now adopted the approach that some items are adults only x

June 5, 2018 9:23 am

I love these ideas, even as someone who isn’t a parent yet! I was a nanny for a few years when I first moved to NC, and the parents had a similar style of how they treated food. The girls were so adventurous with tasting things and it was fun to see what they did and didn’t like.

My real question though is if the picture of food you have in this post is from a restaurant in the Triangle area?? Because it looks delicious!

June 5, 2018 1:11 pm
Reply to  Nichole

Haha it is! It’s Namu in Durham, and it is delicious!!

June 5, 2018 10:00 am

This is great! Her temperament is as sweet as compliant pie and that definitely plays into her eating very well!! As a mama of one who has been very, very adamant from the get go on what/how she eats (hated most purees, but loved chunks of food so we did more BLW-babyledweaning), I may have some encouragement for moms of the strong willed type who may be more challenging despite all the above efforts. I have learned a couple of tricks to get around total defiance (and food throwing or screaming at the site of their plate) and fortunately, we’ve had less meals lately where we’ve sent her to bed with (gasp!) nothing to eat! That being said, we’ve done that because I’m not a short order line cook. Period. We are guilty of having done easy dinners (like frozen nuggets/hot dogs & steamed veggies from a bag or mac n cheese) for her if we’re going out (and have a sitter coming or we’ve planned an in home dinner date after bedtime) and she prefers to request those if she sees things on her plate that she doesn’t want. My response is always, “That’s too bad! This is what we’re all having!” I don’t like bribing with dessert or more of something she wants (bread or fruit) to get her to eat more veg or meat or whatever she happens to refuse, but I have found some success with “no bath toys!” unless she has a few more bites or “well, you are going to bed with no dinner” ( this is on a meal where she’s just refusing to eat-one comes to mind-pulled pork, asparagus, potatoes and she was having none of it). But, overall, she’ll go to bed contently with no food and no bath toys, or she’ll give in and try her food. We downplay the potential drama with simple statements and we try to minimize our reactions to bad dinner behavior and we continue to eat and chat and remind her she’s to stay in her seat until we’re all done. The consistency of that seems to be paying off, but there were some times where we definitely had to put her in time out during dinner or “deal” with terrible behavior. Thankfully, those were just frustrating phases and they passed–take heart if your child is this way. It’s tough! We always have music on during dinner and try to make it a fun time. It does baffle me that one day she’ll eat (say, broccoli or cheese) and the next day completely refuse it. So I’m always offering it again and again and again never knowing if it’s a good day for it or not. Another tip would be just to limit an afternoon snack or control what that snack is (no filling crackers, so maybe some string cheese and fruit instead and also making the snack earlier so she’s hungry for dinner) or stay busy enough to skip it alltogether. We tend to have the same breakfast each day as well, but I’ve been making smoothies for myself and that’s a SURE way to make sure she’s getting healthy protein and greens, so this has been a new snack for her that I can feel good about giving her. I highly recommend a mini bullet thing (amazon has some cheap ones!). My rule of thumb is to not house junk so that when she does occasionally have it, I’m not going to freak out. We also know she will totally get down on some Mexican food! So… if there have been a few days of poor dinners, we know she’s going to get an amazing meal of beans, guac, salsa, and tacos!! Kind of sad, but so true and it cracks us up that she love her spicy salsa! I think it’s key to just not put too much pressure on the situation, though it’s hard in the moment. I was an extremely picky eater as a child (I’m talking butter sandwhiches on white bread-GROSS! because I hated everything else) and I turned out with a broad pallet and I’ve become pretty adventurous, so there is hope, I hope!!

June 5, 2018 12:35 pm
Reply to  Megan

Megan, how old is your daughter? Mine (17 months) sounds similar to yours, she is definitely a strong-willed child! We feed her what we’re eating, and if she doesn’t eat it, then she doesn’t eat dinner, too. I figure she’s just not that hungry, or else she’d try it! I am anticipating issues when she gets older about sitting at the dinner table, we had to buy a high chair with a five-point harness so she wouldn’t try to climb out of the seat when she’s done (and she still strains against the straps like she’s trying to bust out of them, her face gets all red!).

June 5, 2018 5:24 pm
Reply to  Bethany

Bless it!! Sounds about right. We joke that we’ve tamed a dragon in some ways. Ours is 2.5! The 5pt harness is golden, lol! We can let ours out these days and it’s exciting to her to sit on her knees at our banquette once she’s done with her food, but she’s a mess???? they are determined little things!

June 5, 2018 12:38 pm
Reply to  Megan

RE: Not liking one thing from one day to the next.

My SIL shared what her pediatrician said to her once–kids have preferences just like adults. Some days we feel like a stir fry, sometimes a salad, and others a juicy hamburger. They can’t easily articulate what they feel like (esp early on!), so sometimes they just might pass over things based on what they feel like that day, but that may not mean they always don’t feel like it.

June 5, 2018 12:00 pm

Been waiting on this post to see your approach!

Our daughter, 13 months, has been a good eater from the beginning. She definitely has preferences, but for the most part has eaten 90% of things offered. However, in the last month, she’s started to not eat portions of meals of things she loved in the past. In particular meats and green veggies. I continue to give them to her to keep her exposed. We’ve also found she needs a lot of variety. Like can’t repeat things within several days (sigh!). So recently I’ve stocked the freezer with greater veggie varieties, sprinkled on a few new spices, and cooked/frozen things on weekends (meatballs, spinach veg muffins, egg muffins).

My toughest challenge is I’d really like us to eat as a family, but we’ve found she’s super fussy if she doesn’t eat by 4:30/5pm. I’d consider introducing a snack, but she naps 2:30-4/4:30 so there’s not a good time for it. I don’t get home until 5:15 at the earliest and my husband works at night so unfortunately it’s not feasible right now. That said, we try to eat breakfast together and eat mostly the same meal.

We also follow the notion that if she can’t/shouldn’t be eating we don’t eat it either. It’s taken some time for my husband to realize if he starts chowing on an apple she’s going to want some! I’ve debated about tastes of food while cooking, because it’s not a meal and not in her seat, but I like you’re thinking so will keep that up moving forward.

I’m hopeful the recent changes are a phase (in the midst of teething!) and she’ll rebound to continue to eat more greens! Similarly, we don’t have the notion that you HAVE to eat. Her body knows best. Same with milk intake. She really doesn’t drink much, but does eat a lot of food at each seating so I’m comfortable her body knows what it needs!

Interested to hear about others experiences and what #2 is like for you!

June 5, 2018 12:30 pm

Lucy (17 months) is generally a pretty good eater, but not at all adventurous. We pretty much follow all the same “rules” your family does, especially eating the same thing for dinner at the same time. Sometimes we eat something that Lucy just can’t eat yet, so in those instances, I make her something else. :) I did make the mistake the other day of eating pretzels in front of her and then she immediately wanted them- oops!

She also eats the same thing for breakfast and lunch. My thinking is, if she doesn’t eat a good dinner, then she will have had at least two solid meals a day. Or, if she doesn’t eat dinner, she must not be that hungry (Lucy is definitely willing to try more things when she is hungry, which makes sense)!

I do have a hard time getting her to eat vegetables. Right now I rely on pouches to get her nutrition, but I need a long-term solution.

June 6, 2018 4:32 pm
Reply to  Em

Yes, I think smoothies are where we’ll be headed! Just have to teach Lucy how to drink through a straw first…haha.

June 5, 2018 1:07 pm

My son, about 27 months, is a pretty good eater, too, and we use a lot of the same approaches that you have! He loves helping cook, too (dumping out a measuring cup of something I’ve chopped, helping me mix batter), and I definitely think being part of what’s going on is helpful.

One additional thing that’s worked for us: we don’t try to “hide food” or “camoflauge” veggies but rather offer them with a fun dip (usually hummus or yogurt-based). Everything from cooked carrots to cucumber to broccoli and blanched green beans have worked.

When I’m feeling stressed about a lunch that is essentially a single food group (cheese, anyone?), I try to remind myself that it’s about a day of food. If in a 24 hour period he’s getting a good mix, we’re doing okay.

Our go-to breakfasts are whole wheat toast/english muffins (with peanut butter or cream cheese), frozen homemade muffins (banana oat, blueberry, morning glory), yogurt, and fruit. In a pinch, a cereal bar. Because, you know, life!

June 5, 2018 3:39 pm

I honestly almost skipped reading this post because reading about kids who can eat all kinds of food is my number one source of comparison-induced stress, but since it’s you, I clicked through anyway :) I would say we’re similar in regards to #2 and #3 and I honestly have never thought about #4 but like the idea! #1 is something I very much want, but we’re just not ready to give up all the foods Charlie is allergic to, especially since that will probably be a necessary part of our future–we won’t make separate dinners forever! That said, if we do make a meal for ourselves that he can eat, or that we can easily eliminate his allergens from when making a portion for him, we do try to do that and then eat together. We love those days and it definitely facilitates Charlie wanting to try new things!

Fingers crossed baby boy will follow in June’s footsteps in this area!

Kelly Strawberry
June 5, 2018 5:33 pm

Great tips!

My son has the ultimate sweet tooth. When I woke him up the other morning, he motioned me down to his level and whispered in my ear “I wanna cookie.” I think he must dream of sweets!

That being said, the most hopeful thing I ever read was in the comment section of a blog post about toddler eating when I was trying to find tips for quick and healthy dinner ideas. A mom of six now-grown children said her pickiest child ate only sweets for the first 5 years, but is now the healthiest eater out of all six as an adult. So there’s always hope. :)

June 6, 2018 12:59 pm

Have you read “French Kids Eat Everything” ? It’s similar to the food topics covered in “Bringing Up Bebe”, but a much deeper look at French vs. US culture around food. I found it very interesting in how our cultures fundamentally think about food very differently!