I have a three year old daughter who changes her mind about what foods she likes/dislikes approximately every 56 seconds. One minute she loves olives (or as she calls them Olafs) and the next, she “don’t like them mommy!” It’s actually quite ridiculous.
But she’s at an age where she’s testing limits, pushing boundaries and trying to see what she can get away with. “How much will Mom budge on this?” “What will she do if I refuse to put my socks on?” “What if I put my underwear on my arms, pants on my head and shirt on my legs when we need to leave for daycare in 6 minutes?” (seriously, she does this.)” “If I do this (insert annoying sound) repeatedly, will her reaction be the same?”
And that folks, is the key. Consistency. When she was approximately 18 months she was on a full adult diet. By adult I mean no bottles, no breast milk, no weird, scary looking rice cereals; she was eating what we ate. We kept her in mind when cooking so we weren’t making foods she obviously wouldn’t try/like/make eye contact with like calamari or cooking full fishes, eyes and all, BUT we did expect her to eat what was put in front of her.
In our house, if you don’t eat it for breakfast, you get it for lunch. If you don’t eat it for lunch, you eat it for dinner. Either way, it. will. go. down. that. gullet. She will get hungry enough to finally eat it. So she learned pretty quickly that it was easiest to just eat what was on the menu. We don’t cater to her ever-changing, highly irrational, intensely emotional food quirks. Shes three. Enough said.
Another thing we don’t do: beg her to “have one more bite” or “two more bites.” We ask her to try it once. Then she will know if she actually likes it or not. If she doesn’t, we don’t force her to eat it. That’s mean. But if she does like it, we do want her to eat enough so that “her tummy is full” (her words exactly each meal). This mean she doesn’t have to eat the entire plate. I think forcing kids to eat everything in front of them past the point of full is like planting a subconscious seed that will sprout bad eating habits and poor relationships with food. There’s nothing wrong with leaving food on your plate if you are genuinely satiated in our house. Toddlers are always scheming and plotting and testing the waters with their parents. I am not interested in fighting with a three-year-old or negotiating over food. If she doesn’t want to even attempt to try her dinner, she goes hungry. It’s a long way until the next meal but I know she won’t starve. Some of you may think it’s cruel or odd parenting but it works for us. She’s 3.5 now and loves most veggies (except mushrooms), horseradish, blue cheese, olives (98% of the time), kombucha, fruit, toast, smoothies etc. She enjoys more foods than most toddlers I know and she’s slowly understanding any behaviours she exhibits won’t get her out of her meals or she goes hungry. I don’t care if she doesn’t want to eat. That’s harsh, I know. But I know I’m teaching her a valuable lesson to be adventurous in her food choices and to control her emotions at meal time. We’re teaching her to try new things at least once and to enjoy what food she does like, one bite at a time, one tummy full meal at a time.