Toddler Eating – Why Exposure is Key when Creating Good Eating Habits…
One of the most common topics I come across in my consulting work is toddlers who refuse to eat certain food types, the most common of those being vegetables or anything really that is “good” for them. Whilst refusing vegetables is a very normal stage in Toddler eating, and often occurs around 12-24 months, it is definitely affected by a parent’s response to that fussiness. After all, no child is born only having the ability to eat pasta and bread, however this can easily be reinforced as your child starts the slippery path to becoming a fussy eater.
From as young as 4 months when weaning starts, you can start to help shape your babies eating habits. Starting off mostly with root vegetable purees, you will soon notice that your baby has a preference for the sweeter vegetables, such as sweet potato or butternut squash. As your baby’s food repertoire then begins to grow, introducing green vegetables and more interesting veg (cauliflower, swede, green beans etc), might mean you start to find that your little bundle eats better when their dinner is sweet tasting.
For most parents, it is very natural to want to feed your baby up, therefore adding in sweet potato to each new food, or giving sweet potato as a back-up if cauliflower doesn’t go down well. However, although of course with the best intentions at heart, the best thing to do is to introduce new flavours one at a time, and not always combine with those flavours that you already know they like. The temptation is to fill them up, but remember that their little tummies are fine on just milk from this age, so any food is a bonus – meaning that it doesn’t really matter if they do not like or finish their one cube of broccoli. If you can start off your weaning process with this idea in your mind, you are on to good things as your baby starts to eat well.
As your baby goes into toddlerhood, finger food will become more important. Exposure to finger food is another really important concept in healthy eating, and the earlier you expose your child to texture – the more likely they are to take to those foods in the future. This includes veggies – which will often not even be touched and left on the side of the plate or even worse, get thrown across the room by your determined 11 month old! Again, all very normal behaviour for a small child…nevertheless, continued exposure will be the key to getting your child to try those foods. Very naturally, given the time and energy put into prepping food – you will feel like there is no point in giving your baby that finger food anymore, and stop giving them veggies (or whichever food it is they don’t seem keen on). By doing this though, you are reducing the likelihood that they will then try the food again – out of sight and out of mind!
During our Toddler Eating Workshop, one of the problems most parents have is getting vegetables into their little person. When we then go around and ask how many are still exposing their child to the food they want them to like, most parents will admit to having given up with these foods long ago. Therefore, hoping that they will eat them, but not really offering them much… and this is the key to your toddler at some point coming back to their vegetables! Don’t forget that as well as exposing your child to vegetables in stick and finger format, you can also add them to cooked dishes, and change up the way in which you offer them – perhaps carrot sticks haven’t worked, but maybe grated carrots, offering carrots with a dip or tiny cubes of carrot in a dish might get their attention. Being creative is essential in helping your mini person to become a good eater.
The Toddlers at the Table Eating Workshop runs once every other month, and looks at fussy eating and creating good eating habits in children aged 12-36 months. During the two hour session, you will be taken on a journey of expert advice including that from myself The Parent and Baby Coach, having worked with the behavioural side of eating in both babies and toddlers for over 8 years, and also from Fran – a top Mummy chef who runs the local “Wyld Cookery School”. As well as advice and discussion surrounding fussy eating, you will get to see recipes being demonstrated that are great for the whole family. Here Fran gives an example of a dish that you can cook for both yourself and your toddler, this time with the emphasis being on exposure to aromatic flavours, moving away from the tradition beige food toddler diet…
Greek Lamb with Orzo
Makes approx. 8 x 150g cubes
(Double it (all bar the tinned tomatoes) and serve with the salad below to feed 6 adults)
1 tbs olive oil
450g packet of diced shoulder of lamb, if for the younger toddler you can diced up a bit more.
1 onion, chopped
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
400g can chopped tomato
750ml hot chicken or vegetable stock
300g orzo pasta
Freshly grated parmesan (or cheddar for kids if Parmesan is too strong)
Optional: chopped coriander or flat leaf parsley.
1. Heat oven to 180C.
2. In a large casserole heat the oil and add the lamb. Allow to fry for 5 mins, browning slightly.
3. Add the onions, oregano, ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks then stir well. 4. Bake, uncovered, for 30 mins, stirring halfway.
5. Pour over the chopped tomatoes and stock, cover with a lid, then return to the oven for 1½ hrs, until the lamb is very tender.
6. Remove the cinnamon sticks, then stir in the orzo. Cover again, then cook for a further 20 mins, stirring halfway through. The orzo should be cooked and the sauce thickened. If it is looking a little dry at ‘half time’ then add a splash more water and continue to cook, if a little liquid at the end of cooking take the lid off and cook one for a further 10 mins. It can always be let down to serve if needs be. You are looking for consistency like a risotto.
7. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan or cheddar and serve with some steamed veg on the side.
Wyld Cookery School Tip: not only does this freeze beautifully it can also be made for the whole family (double the recipe – all but the tinned tomatoes – to serve 6 adults and remember to season!) and is totally delicious served with crusty bread and this very simple Olive, Caper and Feta Salad:
Tear 1 romaine lettuce into a large bowl, mix in ½ a very thinly sliced red onion, ½ cucumber cut into chunks, a good handful of pitted Kalamata olives and 2 tbs capers. Whisk 1 tbs red wine vinegar with 3 tbs olive oil, toss in the salad and crumble 100g feta over the top.
To book a place on the Toddlers at the Table Eating Workshop, click here…