2 1/2 year old boy, hates meat, and most veggies. I will admit, I am not the greatest cook and we sometimes eat not-so-healthy meals, however, I am still worried about it and want to make sure that I am giving him the best nutrition I can. Any suggestions?
Most kids will eat fairly well and self manage if you set the right boundary conditions and stop making a fuss about it, which makes it into a an attention-grabbing power struggle. Things that can help are
- Routine & Consistency: set fixed meal times every day.
- Sit down with the family and do a little fun ritual (sing, clap, yodle, whatever)
- Make sure there are healthy options on the table. At least nothing un-healthy.
- Absolutely no TV, device, books, phones at the meal table. If it rings, let it ring.
- Kid can decide how much and what they eat. Parent stays out of it. If they don't eat, they don't eat.
- Have another little ritual that declares "meal is over". All eating stops at this point.
- No snacks or food until next meal time.
That will typically do it. You need to carefully explain to the kids how the new rules work and it may take a few days for the routine to sink in. Prepare for the typical questions and complaints "Mom, I'm hungry" A: "Me too, I'm really looking forward to having lunch with you in an hour". "But Im really hungry now". "Sorry, we don't eat between meal times". "I hate this food, it's yucky" A: "ok". Just ignore, it's up to the kid to eat or not.
You just have to be really consistent and they will come around. If they are hungry they will eat. Now is a good time to start: This will get harder as the kids grow older and there are more outside influences (like the horrible US snack, soda & cookie culture)
Anecdote: One of my nephews was a pretty fuss eater. When visiting he shared the dinner table with a few male teenager which would vacuum the dinner table at record speed. The fussiness disappeared within two days or so: he quickly learned that if he wanted to pick something good, he had to move fast!
In addition to the system Hilmar wrote about, make sure your child exerts himself enough during play time. As pointed out here:
Toddlers should get at least 30 minutes daily of structured physical activity. Preschoolers need at least 60 minutes.
Both toddlers and preschoolers should not be restrained for more than 60 minutes at a time in car seats or strollers, except when sleeping.
Here are a few practical suggestions for getting meat/veggies into your kids that have worked for our boys, and that don't require much cooking expertise. They basically involve incorporating the meat/veggies into other things that might be more appealing.
- Frittatas/Quiches. Our boys generally like "eggy things" and so we often will bury veggies (sometimes with small hunks of sausage or ground meat) in these. Frittatas are super easy to make, just beat 8 or so eggs together, add veggies (cut into small pieces) and cheese, and dump into a 12-inch pan over medium-low heat and let it sit for a while until set. For a quiche, do almost the same thing, just add some cream and dump into a frozen pie shell and bake.
- Veggie Mac & Cheese. Whenever we do revert to the American standby of Mac & Cheese from the store, we always add veggies. Usually I'll just dice pretty finely (so they can't be entirely picked out) some carrots/green beans/peas/bell peppers, saute them briefly, then add to the mac and cheese at the end and serve. If your son likes mac & cheese, at least this'll be a dilemma for him! (You can also add cut up meat of some sort if you'd like.)
- "Tomato" sauce. Most kids love tomato sauce in some incarnation. We will sometimes add cooked peppers, carrots, eggplant, squash or the like to tomato sauce in the blender, mix it all up, then use it as you would any tomato sauce. They'll be none the wiser as long as it's not too obvious.
The nice part about this general approach is that it's kind of like a whole-meal-in-one-dish approach, so you don't have to put anything else on the table. They're not choosing between the yummy thing they like and the pile of yucky veggies. They just get to eat or not eat, and if they eat at all, they eat veggies.
I have a 2.5yo with severe food allergies and I realised a couple of months ago that carbs are usually the barrier when it comes to getting her to eat veggies. If she has carbs on her plate, she'll fill up on those and eat nothing else.
So now I do low-carb dinner. My husband and I eat low carb diets for medical reasons, and she gets carbs for breakfast and lunch, so for dinner we just forgo the carbs all together.
I also shared a plate with her initially, and she was happy picking off my plate. She had A Thing where she didn't want to eat her food, she wanted to eat mine. So we both just ate my food for a couple weeks. I just combined her serving and mine on the plate. Then I moved to separate plates where she could eat off both.
I also made sure that practically everything on the plate was veggies and tasty. We don't eat very large servings of meat, so it's mostly veggies and legumes, and I ate the veggies too. I'd make sure everything was cut up nice and small, and we'd make a game of eating a piece of veg and going 'mmmm yummy'. I didn't comment on how much she was eating, say she had to eat, or anything like that. In fact I made a point to say 'you don't have to'. She didn't have to eat if she didn't want to, but then if she was hungry later the food would come out again and she'd get a chance to eat it then.
Now my 2.5yo eats veggies like a champ. Not all are equal (she prefers sweetcorn and chickpeas over spinach, but even spinach is getting a try these days). It helps that we eat very simmilar food every day, so she knows what she's eating, but I do like to introduce a new thing every now and again.
Another thing I do is if she doesn't want it (eg a piece of broccoli) I'll say 'let's share it!' and I'll cut it in half and eat one half and give her the other. This has about a 50% success rate which isn't great but better than nothing.
I also do the usual things other people suggest, like getting her involved in food preparation and trying the same foods over and over again to give her multiple tries.