Both of my children have gone through a sequence of behavior toward food that’s familiar to a lot of parents: They started out eagerly sampling the foods their parents eat and liking almost everything! Then, around the third birthday, they became much more particular and soon established a short list of acceptable foods, just a few things that they ask for over and over again while rejecting many of the things we want to serve for family meals.
This is really frustrating! We had thought our excellent parenting had created an adventurous eater who easily absorbed a healthy variety of nutrients. Now, we’re stuck with a whining tyrant who wants to control our menu and limit us to boring foods!
However, this time around, we have our first child as a reminder that this is only a stage that will pass. By the time Nicholas was 6, he was seeking out new and different flavors and ways of combining foods. Most of our food-related arguments since then have been about his desire to prevent his parents from making meals we’ve had before that he didn’t like, or about his demands for less-than-healthy foodlike substances.
It also helps to acknowledge that our current 3-year-old’s food preferences could be worse! Lydia’s most-requested foods all have some nutritional value and aren’t expensive. If you’re struggling with a picky preschooler, make sure you’ve tried these menu options:
1. Toast with butter and nutritional yeast flakes.
You can tell by the name that nutritional yeast flakes are good for you! Nutritional yeast is a complete protein, high in B vitamins and many minerals. (Read more about it here.) Lydia used to like eating Tomato Toast with me, but last summer she started pulling off the tomatoes and just eating the toast, and then she began asking for toast with yeast flakes as her breakfast nearly every day for several months. She still wants it several times a week.
The good news is that she’ll accept whole-wheat toast. Whole-wheat bread has more fiber and protein than white bread, so this is a wholesome dish even if it’s not a balanced meal. (We try to get some fruit into her, too, but sometimes it has to wait until the next meal.)
Lydia doesn’t like the crust as much as the middle of the bread, and the one downside to whole-wheat is that the crust is tougher so she eats less of it. When parents don’t feel like eating her crusts, we save them in a bag in the refrigerator and use them to make breadcrumbs later.
2. Steamed broccoli, with ketchup for dipping.
Hey, broccoli is a really nutritious vegetable. We get a little tired of always having broccoli instead of other vegetables, that’s all! But we can put different seasoning on our portions while Lydia enjoys her ketchup.
Ketchup has some sugar and some sodium and isn’t the greatest thing to eat in mass quantities, but it’s hardly the worst. I’m glad my kid is eating broccoli with ketchup rather than fried potato products with ketchup!
3. Breaded fish, with malt vinegar.
Factory-breaded fish is convenient to buy and bake, but the breading usually contains soybean oil (which is probably genetically modified) or cottonseed oil (made from the world’s dirtiest crop, it’s likely high in pesticide residues) as well as other questionable additives. But Lydia loves it!
Fortunately, she’s also willing to eat fish with a homemade breadcrumb topping. She doesn’t like it as much as the factory-breaded stuff, but she’ll eat a hearty portion without complaint. So we use up some of those toast crusts making home-breaded fish once in a while, and we limit the packaged fish sticks to one meal a week.
Her fondness for malt vinegar (or balsamic vinegar) on her fish pleases us. It may not add anything nutritionally, but we take it as a good sign that the bland breading isn’t interesting enough for her and she likes a tangy flavor.
We’re trying to raise kids who appreciate real, healthy food–without spending too much money on it. Shopping around to get the best prices really helps our budget! In my latest article for Kitchen Stewardship, I explain how a family of 4 can handle buying some foods in large restaurant-size packages, and I outline what is and isn’t a bargain at Gordon Food Service stores. They’ve got the best price on broccoli! It’s also the place to buy a chef’s disguise or a wall-mounted soap foamer for your bathroom, if you are so inclined.
Visit the Hearth & Soul Link Party for more great tips!