Your toddler clamps his mouth shut, turns his head away and screams--loudly--as if you're inflicting the worst kind of torture on his fragile soul. The offense? Vegetables.
“Children tend to ‘hit the wall’ with their eating habits somewhere between 18 months and 24 months,” says Laura Jana, M.D., a pediatrician in Omaha, Neb., and a co-author of Food Fights: Winning the Nutritional Challenges of Parenthood Armed with Insight, Humor, and a Bottle of Ketchup (American Academy of Pediatrics). “It probably correlates with becoming more independent.” Here’s how to help yourself—and your nutritionally resistant child—through this challenging time.
1) Instill good habits early: When your baby begins eating solids (often at about 6 months), be sure to include lots of vegetables—and lots of variety. “Expose your child to different flavors and textures,” Jana advises.
2) Be persistent: “It can take several tries before a baby decides he likes something,” she says.
3) Don’t project: “Start out assuming your baby will like everything,” Jana suggests. “Keep it to yourself if you don’t like butternut squash.”
4) Engage in subterfuge: If your child simply won’t touch anything green (or yellow or orange or red), go ahead and hide it. “Mash up the peas and hide them in his pasta,” she suggests. “But also put some peas on his plate so he can try them in their whole, unadulterated form.”
5) Watch the portions: Don’t overwhelm him with a mound of vegetables: Doing so may cause him to dig in his heels. “He doesn’t need that many vegetables to get the health benefits,” Jana says, adding that one tablespoon per year of age is a reasonable serving size.
6) Don’t be a short-order cook: For the most part, serve your child what you’re eating yourself.
7) Keep your cool: “Once he figures out how to push your buttons, you’re sunk,” Jana says. Try to keep in mind that this is likely only a phase and that he will get enough nutrients from the other (admittedly tiny) amounts of healthful foods he’s eating. If you’re still worried, give him a multivitamin. Above all, remember: “People teach themselves to like coffee and beer,” Jana says. “Kids can like vegetables.”