Oh, those tiny humans of ours! We LOVE them sooooo much! The day comes when you have meal planned and want to serve pasta with sauce for dinner, but your 2 years old wants “Mac & Cheese”. And…hear comes the crying, full on tears of an upset two year old.”I WANT MAC AND CHEESE, WHAAAAAAA”.
We want to see our children grow and thrive and sometimes the sound and emotion of a temper tantrum can become intolerable to us. So we cave, and make them mac and cheese while we serve the rest of the family adult food.
I am going to come out and say it even it offends some of you. DON’T DO THIS. DO NOT PREPARE A SEPARATE DINNER FOR YOUR TODDLER. Let them eat the family meal you have prepared!
And here’s why:
- Although your child is special to you, your child is not special to the entire world in which s/he will eventually have to live in. Adjust them early to this fact. They will struggle less, have more empathy for others, and start learning important life skills early such as, “the world does not revolve around my toddler food preferences and I can’t afford a personal chef at age 2 anyway”.
- Why would you want double the work load of dinner time? Life is busy and a mother’s time is precious! If you are preparing signature dishes catered to each family member, you have lost your mind (I say this with love)! ONE meal = less prep time, less dishes, less stress.
- Have your toddler eat the same food as you to ensure a varied pallet which is important for establishing life long taste preferences and decreasing the risk for childhood obesity. Don’t beleive me? Check out this research… “The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), which provided data on the dietary patterns of 3022 infants and toddlers, revealed that 4 to 24 month old children typically consumed significant amounts of developmentally inappropriate, energy-dense, nutrient poor foods. Of particular concern was the finding that 18% to 33% of infants and toddlers consumed no distinct servings of vegetables on a typical day and when vegetables were consumed the most common choice was french fries.” Let me reiterate here, french fries are a processed, deep fried (in hot boiling grease) food, NOT a vegetable.
- You will curb the development of a truly “picky” eater. Have you ever heard other parents describe their child as a picky eater? Or a child who “only eats white foods”. This is a problem and it was reinforced by the parents. Why? Because they allow it. They provide the preferred food again and again rather than diversifying the offerings. Children need to try a food at least a half-dozen times to garner a “taste” for it.
- You are your child’s biggest role model. While it feels good to make your child happy in the moment, it’s actually a parent’s job to raise these babes into healthy, independent adults and contributors to society. By preparing ONE healthy family meal and setting the expectation that you ALL eat the SAME meal, you are raising a polite dinner guest, a child with a wide range of food preferences, and a child who will understand what foods are healthy to eat.
“Data indicate that … parental modeling in the toddler years play significant roles in establishing longer-term eating behaviors” (Birch, Savage, Ventura, 2007).
Yes, there will be some foods your child may never like. My daughter really dislikes squash in all varieties. She has disliked this vegetable since the pureed days of early eating (6-7 months old). But she understands that she has to take at least one bite of any food served for dinner, even the foods she doesn’t like – she still has to try it.
And to be real, you can certainly “add” a few extra foods to his/her plate you know they will eat. Maybe you add a few sliced strawberries or cheese cubes to the toddler’s plate. No harm done. If they actually do try a bite and honest to goodness dislike the meal, you can’t fault them for earnest trying. In these very rare scenarios, yes by all means, make them a PBJ, they’ve earned it.
Do you feed your child their own kid-friendly meals?