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Parent Versus Toddler: A Daily Food Fight

Once upon a time, my toddler would eat anything I put on his plate. Not anymore.

When he first started eating solids, Sweet G was a champion of nutrition. He’d eat quinoa, mushrooms, plain yogurt. He’d even ask for a second serving of pureed prunes. He loved vegetables so much that the hub and I used to joke about the blue ribbons he’d win in steamed broccoli eating contests.  

But, by the time his second birthday came around, his food preferences were altogether different. He demanded cookies and candy.  At his second birthday party, we found him alone in the kitchen with his face in the cake.

It’s all our fault. Though the hub and I limited his sugar intake until his first birthday, we quickly fell into the habit of giving him treats. Like most parents, we didn’t see the harm in giving him a lollipop during a long car ride or a popsicle on a hot summer day. But, when we caught him taking the sugar pourer straight to the face, we knew we had to make a change.

Trial and Error

Our first step toward reversing the damage we’d done was to hide the food we don’t want Sweet G to have. He saw through our plan quickly, though, and actually started rifling through the cabinets and pantry in search of our cache of treats whenever he found the chance.

So instead of denying the existence of chips and candy, we decided to acknowledge its presence in our home and limit Sweet G to one treat a day. Little dude held out, though, and went on a food strike that whittled him down to skin and bones. Some days, he’d get by on a bite of oatmeal, three baby carrots, and a tiny wedge of cheese.

Despite his supplement regimen of multivitamins, probiotics, and fish oil, we knew he was missing out on key nutrients. So we brought the treats back, using them as bribes. If you eat three more big bites, we’d say, you can have a treat. Sound familiar? It’s a tactic that works for many parents, and it worked for us too—for a week.

And then we found ourselves back at square one, racking our brains as well as the brains of our friends, family, and authors of parenting books. We came across a few new ideas: hide zucchini in chocolate chip cookies, eliminate snacks, serve meals on a strict schedule with a timer.

What works for us

All of the advice worked to a certain extent. And, in the meantime, the hub and I discovered that Sweet G would eat twice as much or more if we fed him while he was in the bath tub. Weird, I know. But, when a child eats as little as he was eating, you do what you got to do.

So, we got by—slowly, inconsistently, sometimes in spurts. And then I made a mistake. Behind on washing dishes and out of clean bowls, I served soup in a mug. Best mistake ever. Sweet G ate three servings and ALL of the grilled cheese sandwich he dipped in it.

Even though the soup in a cup trick doesn’t always work, we’re on a roll. As long as we keep mealtime fresh and fun, Sweet G eats at least one good meal a day.

But he still begs for sugar. When I come home from work, he greets me not with a hug or a Hi, Mama! but with a Can I have just one marshmallow?

At this point, we’ve decided to completely eliminate sugar from our home as part of our super healthy 2013 resolution. It’s a drastic step that requires the hub and I to get rid of our own chocolate stash, but it’s a step in the right direction for the whole family—including Baby T, who was cultivated a sweet tooth with just one lick of his brother’s lollipop.

How do you get your toddler to eat? Do you limit sugar in your home? Tell us in the comments.

Jessica Nunez January 07, 2013 at 06:56 PM
"Can I have just one marshmallow?" So funny! My daughter is approaching her second birthday, and I also see an increase in her appetite for sweets. It's hard when they get older and remember not only that there are cookies in the house, but also where they are! I was also debating taking sugar out of the house completely but I don't think I'd be able to handle that myself :) I'm interested in seeing what others have to say!

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