I am so excited and pleased to introduce all my sTORIbook readers to one of my fave bloggers, Nina, from Sleeping Should be Easy. If you are a parent and have never read Sleeping Should be Easy, add her to your subscription list now – trust me. I’m so grateful that I stumbled across Nina’s blog soon after I had Luke because I can’t tell you how much of a resource she has been to me. Nina is such a talented writer. She takes her experiences as a mother and captures them in her blog with such honesty and truly relates to the reader.

I am honored that she has agreed to do a blog post on something that is very important to me for Toddler Luke – healthy eating habits. To visit Sleeping Should be Easy click here.

Healthy Eating Habits

By: Nina from Sleeping Should be Easy

This past weekend, my two-year-old tasted chocolate for the first time. Sure, he had eaten pastries and baked goods before, but chocolate would be new. I was adamant about avoiding sweets and processed food for the longest time—anything from the obvious culprits like fast food and hard candy to the more innocuous ones like homemade treats that grandma made. A part of me was scared that he would morph into a sweets-only toddler boy that would shun all healthy food the minute his mouth bit into that chocolate chip cookie.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. In fact, he still loves his fruits and vegetables, and even “adult food” such as the orzo pasta with tomato and blue cheese he just ate for dinner. I’ve been lucky: at an age when most toddlers, even the ones who used to eat anything, suddenly drop their healthy staples in preference for particular favorites, mine continues to indulge in wholesome food.

I’m willing to bet that part of it is his personality—that part I can’t control. But I’d also like to think that certain habits can help promote healthy eating in toddlers right from the start, including:

1. Serve and eat healthy food yourself.
Okay, I admit that I still sneak in a bowl of ice cream when the little guy is down for the night, but for the most part, we all eat the same food. Kids are more likely to model the behavior they see, particularly from their parents. By creating a regular habit of serving and eating healthy food that the whole family eats, toddlers seem more likely to follow suit rather than request their own special meal.

2. Serve food with something your toddler enjoys.
Sometimes when I know that my toddler isn’t likely to wolf down a particular meal, I’ll include his favorites so that at least he has something busy to feed himself with. For instance, I didn’t think he would much like a meal that included sun-dried tomatoes and jarred artichoke hearts; I just figured that the combination might be too salty or pickled for him. So while I handed him or even spoon-fed him his main meal, he munched on a side of cherries.

3. Offer a variety of meals.
When every week consists of ground beef—in hamburgers, pasta, or casseroles—convincing your toddler to give salmon a chance may pose a challenge. Instead, look for a variety of meals to try, from meat to seafood as well as salads and grains.

4. Don’t give up on the “denied” food.
Along the same lines, just because your toddler was ready to splat that spinach soup on the floor the first time you offered it to him, don’t get discouraged and cross spinach off your list just yet. Consider including the ingredient in another meal, or even serve the same soup a few days or weeks down the line. I remember thinking my toddler would forever refuse rice, cheese and eggs because he didn’t like them at first try. Instead, every time I happened to have rice, I would offer him a bit until he eventually took to all three.

5. Don’t force the issue.
Family mealtimes can often be some of the most chaotic. I remember when my toddler suddenly refused to eat when he had been so willing to try anything before that. We were arguing when I scooped a bit of the meal into his opened and crying mouth. Sure, he ate, but I’m willing to bet he didn’t feel good about it at all. I’ve since done my best not to repeat that again, as I would rather he enjoy mealtimes than associate them with power issues.

6. Keep mealtimes positive.
Similarly, make mealtimes fun and enjoyable. Family dinners are often the only times everyone can sit down to talk about their day. Kids can quickly learn that mealtimes aren’t simply about eating but about connecting with their families.

7. Let your toddler eat at his own pace and capacity.
It’s tempting to convince picky eaters to take just one more bite after they’ve already said they’re full. Shoot, I do the same with my not-so-picky eater because I’m just in disbelief that he could even refuse food. But we need to respect our kids’ pace and capacity to eat. Let him take his good old time, and don’t force more food onto his plate if he says he’s finished.

8. Include him in your shopping trips, particularly the farmers market.
Like our girl Tori, I’m a huge fan of farmers markets (well, most of the time). My toddler is able to see fresh food sold on the stands as well as other people buying the same healthy food he’ll be eating too. Your toddler can even help pick out an ingredient to cook with, or help place items in your bags or shopping carts.

9. Involve him with cooking and prepping.
Sometimes I pre-chop food and ask him to help scoop the bits into a bowl, or he pretend-cooks alongside me. You can also ask him to help put his utensils and napkins on the table. By involving kids in the kitchen, they’re more likely to eat the healthy food that they invested their efforts into.

10. Treats are okay, especially if you make them together.
I finally consented to offer my toddler his first ever taste of chocolate because we baked a batch of cookies together. He helped stir and mix the batter and eagerly watched the balls of dough rise inside the oven. Kids will likely associate treats with a ton of effort rather than something that simply came out of a bag at the grocery store.

When I handed my toddler his chocolate chip cookie, I feared the worst: that he would gobble it up in a second, ask for more, or worse, come to expect it at each snack time. Instead, he did the opposite—he savored each bite so slowly that I swear it took him a half hour to eat that one cookie. Nor did he ask for more when he finished, and he hasn’t mentioned the word “cookie” since then.

I’d like to think that he has a well-balanced view of all kinds of food. His first few years of eating healthy food has hopefully painted a positive picture of whole foods, while introducing sweets did little to steer him from his usual healthy meals. With a foundation and appreciation for good food and fun company, I’d like to think that he’ll continue to eat his orzo pasta and spinach soup… even with an occasional cookie on the side.

How do you promote healthy eating habits with your kids? What are some of their favorite healthy meals and snacks?

This is my sTORI being written as you read. – Love, Mommy Tori

22 Responses

  1. Erika@YouJustDidWhat

    I used to be so proud of how good of an eater my daughter was, until she became a toddler. She’s become so picky and it drives me crazy. I’ve just had to learn what works for us and not to worry anymore. I can’t control IF she’s going to eat something but I can control her options. She gets options at snack and lunch time, but I don’t create a different dinner than the rest of the family. Only once in awhile we splurge.

    • torijohnson5

      Hi Erika – I know exactly what you mean. My son, Luke, was a fantastic eater until he turned one. Now I never know from one day to the next how he’s going to eat. I think you have a great outlook.

    • Sleeping Should Be Easy

      I have yet to run into the problems you ladies have had with picky eating (knock on wood) but I think Erika’s idea of giving options for some meals and keeping dinner the same is awesome.

      Perhaps more importantly, I like what you say about not worrying about it anymore. I find that with toddlers, when we don’t make a huge deal about it, the issue sort of fades away and they realize it’s not going to be one of those power struggles. I still address the issue, but in a shrug-your-shoulders kind of way.

  2. hnMom

    Fantastic ideas. Livi eats pretty much anything, as long as it is babyfood (she’s a toddler as well). I’m afraid it may be a texture thing for her as she doesn’t seem to mind the different tastes. I am worried about it but I try not to put any pressure on her when we offer something new. I am just wondering whether I’ll still have to make babyfood when she goes to school.

    • torijohnson5

      I’ve actually talked before with Nina about the same concern that Luke may have an issue with textures. It seems to come and go so I’m not really sure but it can be frustrating. Sometimes I think they are just not ready for it. So just wait a little bit and try again (and sometimes you have to try, try, try again).

      • hnMom

        Yes, I think that’s the best we can do. Wait until they are ready, no pressure, and keep trying. It actually seems to be more common than I originally thought. And yes, it can be very frustrating. I guess, in a way, I should be thankful that she eats everything (even if it has to be babyfood). At least she is getting all the nutrition she needs.

    • Sleeping Should Be Easy

      I remember that convo, Tori. Have you guys talked to your pediatricians about it? I assume so long as the doc is okay with it, then it shouldn’t be too bad? hnMom, I don’t imagine you still making baby food for Livi when she’s in school haha! I think the same about potty training though. Will he be in diapers in kindergarten?!

      • torijohnson5

        My pediatrician didn’t think it was an issue because he’s inconsistent. She basically thinks a lot of it was just him showing his independence and deciding “I’m not going to like that today.” Sure enough – the next day he would he it with no problem.

      • hnMom

        Yes, we talked to our pediatrician about it and she said to just keep trying and offering. It’s been a while though, so maybe I should give her an update and see if she has other thoughts now that Livi is a bit older. Thanks.
        Yes, I don’t think that I will either but sometimes it seems like things will never get better and I get a little frustrated and yes, worried, about the whole issue.

  3. Oster's Mom

    Because my son has an allergy to dairy, I make every meal at home. There is no fast-food or restaurant eating. With that being said, I truly believe his allergy has caused our entire family to eat healthy (hooray for a positive out of this).

    He eats tofu, peas, kale, pork, chicken, spinach, chick peas, fish (his favorite meal is tilapia, cous cous and peas). So he gets whatever we are eating.

    Although I do struggle with #7; after he gets out of his high chair to play, my husband and I chase him around the house to finish his meal (if we feel he hasn’t eaten enough). I don’t know why we do this. Yesterday, when he got down, we offered him another bite of sweet potato. He took it and left the room to play. I offered him another piece and he denied it. Okay…so clearly he doesn’t want anymore. Your words really opened my eyes in knowing it’s okay if he doesn’t eat as much as we hope for. Thank you.

    • torijohnson5

      I think it’s awesome that you have been able to find a positive for the whole family. I’ve actually been wanting to make cous cous for Luke. I’ve never made it before. Is it hard?

      • Sleeping Should Be Easy

        Tori, go get yourself some couscous right now because it is seriously one of the easiest foods to make. I think you just boil a cup of water, then when it’s boiling well, you pour 1/2 cup of couscous in it, cover the pot and take it off the burner for five minutes. Then it’s done!

        I admit that couscous can be bland if you don’t eat it with something else or dress it up with other ingredients. At the least, I add butter and salt.

        With all that said, I think I’m still a rice kind of person. It’s my go-to grain that I pair with most of my meats or seafood. I think it’s a Filipino thing because there’s no such thing as eating chicken by itself or fish by itself; you eat it with rice! That may be why we have a word not only for “rice” but for “the food that goes with rice” haha.

      • Oster's Mom

        No, not at all. All you do is throw some olive oil in a saucepan, brown the cous cous for roughy 5 minutes (while that’s browning, put the liquid…water or broth…in the microwave until boiling, pour it in the cous cous, cover on low heat, wait about 10 minutes and voila! It’s done.

      • Karen @ Folk Haven

        As already described cous cous is crazy easy to make! One thing I discovered at a natural foods market was Israeli cous cous… it has a much larger grain and my family likes it even more than the usual smaller grain cous cous. Also my son tends to gag and choke when trying to swallow cous cous (due to the texture), but has no problem with the Israeli variety.

      • torijohnson5

        Hi Karen! Thanks to all the comments telling me about cous cous I actually went and purchased some today. I just looked at the box and it IS Israeli cous cous! I’m so excited to make it!

    • Sleeping Should Be Easy

      We do this from time to time, too, where we keep offering food when he’s clearly said or implied that he’s done. I think we have this crazy notion that *we* know how much he should eat, but then if you think about it, some days you’re just super duper hungry and other days you get by with a breakfast of toast. I guess the same applies to these little guys, but in that moment you think, “How can you only eat half of what’s on your plate?!” 🙂

      • torijohnson5

        There have been so many times where I’ve been concerned when Luke has barely eaten and at first I also would take food to him when he was playing. Then it caused further problems because his eating schedule would go off and he wouldn’t be hungry at the next meal time. Now I just follow Nina’s advice.

  4. tdblue

    I love the tip on incorporating our children in food preparation. I always did this with my nieces and nephews, and their parents would be amazed that I got them to eat kidney bean burritos and eggplant spaghetti. My son used to be the least picky eater. I am now running into that problem where he wants to pick favorites in what he eats (for instance, all he wanted to eat last night was macaroni and cheese), so I switched things up today. I served veggies first. After he ate his carrots and strawberry salad, I gave him tortellini (another one of his favorites) and bread. It worked!

    • torijohnson5

      I’m in agreement with you – I can’t wait to start involving my toddler in food prep. Additionally, I’ve learned to do just what you did with saving the favorites for last and doing veggies first.


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