Why is it important to serve variations on the same foods we eat frequently?
I have a confession. I love peanut butter, but I do not like jelly. Or jam. No, It’s not a “health” thing. I just don’t dig them. (I don’t like the taste of honey either. Or donuts, but that’s a whole different post.)
Way before I had kids I started using fruit and other toppings on my “PB&Js” because I enjoyed them so much more, and when I shared these ideas with my adult clients they realized how much they enjoyed the satisfying mouth feel and density of whole fruits on their PB&Js. I even tested smashed raspberries and almond butter sandwiches made with whole grain bread on a bunch of kids about 5 years before I had my first baby. Guess what? They LOVED it. Their parents were shocked. Give it a try! You and your kid may be fans, and you might start changing up how you PB&J!
What about jelly? Is it “bad?” Nope. Jelly is easy, convenient, and (to most people) tasty. It’s just nice to change what we eat from day to day - whether it’s the flavor or brand of jelly - so our kids learn to eat all sorts of foods over time.
Put peanut butter (or other nut/seed butter) on both bread pieces to help prevent bleeding of the fruit into the bread.
If your child is allergic to peanuts or tree nuts, sunflower seed butter or another seed-based butter may be a safe alternative. Also consider using granola butter or cream cheese.
Note: Avoid honey in infancy.
You are not a bad parent if your kid loves beige, starchy foods!
Foodie Judy here. I’m an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with babies and toddlers. No matter how much variety you serve your children, it is still normal for them to prefer crunchy, beige, starchy foods - and cheese. It doesn’t mean you messed up. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with your child. We hope they’ll still eat many other foods, but yes - many kids tend to gravitate toward starches, snacks and anything with cheese.
Why do kids prefer these foods?
How can you help your kiddo branch out from beige foods?
Did you know that a vegetable serving size for two-year-olds is just 2 tablespoons? Yes, only 2 tablespoons! (They can always have more of course!)
Parents always worry about vegetable consumption. Toddlers and kids don’t always tend to gravitate to veggies, but there are so many things we can do to help them learn about them in a safe, low-pressure way. (And also, your kid will survive if they don’t eat a veggie every day even if you serve them. Promise. Go easy on yourself, friend! Toddlers and kids are fickle about food - it’s NORMAL.)
What matters is exposure. Are you serving veggies at most lunches and dinners? (Maybe breakfasts here and there too?) Are you offering veggies as part of snacks? If your kiddo never sees a veggie, it will be harder for them to learn to love them.
Our full plan for getting eating back on track with your toddler or young child can be found in our Toddler Course. If you haven’t taken it yet, keep in mind a few things:
Need help with this? Want expert guidance from a dietitian and an OT feeding therapist (feeding behavior expert)? Check out our Toddler Course and join the thousands of parents worldwide who have taken back mealtime.
Most toddlers become at least somewhat selective starting between 12-24 months. It can be really frustrating, right?
The way we as parents respond to this selectivity is what matters most. The more we push, bribe, beg and cajole, the more our young eaters resist (and the more frustrated we get in response). In our online Toddler Course we talk a lot about how it’s important to bring mealtime to a developmentally-appropriate level. Kids prioritize learning, exploring and mastering new skills, sometimes above sitting at the table and focusing on food. When you bring novelty into mealtime, suddenly the experience is much more interesting because they’re required to explore a new tool or technique.
We love these heart measuring cups from Sur La Table (purchased last year for Valentine’s Day but can be used year-round!). They’re not only great for cooking and baking, but they also serve as super cute snack cups! Other great novelty choices include measuring cups and spoons, muffin tins and ice cube trays, miniature play cups and tea cups, etc.
Our Toddler Course contains over 100 ideas for utilizing novelty with your tot, as well as a step-by-step approach for taking back mealtime. It was created for clients of already selective toddlers and is even better when taken before picky eating sets in to prevent troublesome mealtime behaviors.
The first half was written by Judy, an Occupational Therapist specializing in Feeding Therapy with over 35 years experience working in this field (she also has 2 adult children who are now great eaters!). The second half was written by Megan, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with two young kids at home who specializes in maternal/child nutrition and disordered eating.
The course is great for parents of older babies preparing for toddlerhood all the way through kids ages 5-7 and can be watched and re-watched as often as you’d like. It’s video-based with helpful printouts so you just sit back, watch or listen, and enjoy! Check out what others are saying about our course - our goal is to set up your entire family to be intuitive eaters who love all foods.
One way to help broaden your child’s willingness to try new foods is to present popular, common foods in their diet in different ways. This teaches them that foods always look a little different and don’t need to be cut or presented exactly the same, which allows them to be more comfortable with new or unusual foods in the long run. More variety presented equals more variety (eventually) consumed.
We all tend to default to the same presentation of foods like bananas - it’s totally natural - but if you could change it up every other time you present that food, you’re slowly helping your kiddo become used to variety. If you need help with picky eating, please check out our online Toddler Course.
Side note: we get asked all the time in our Facebook Group if it’s “OK” to serve a banana every day. First off, whatever you want to do and however your family eats is OK! Bananas are inexpensive, portable, full of minerals and fiber, and delicious - they’re an awesome option! As long as they’re not causing constipation and your child is seeing other fruits too, feel free to serve them daily if you’d like - we just recommend presenting them differently when you offer them.
Here are some easy ways to vary how you serve a banana:
Do you have a toddler or baby that dislikes getting their face cleaned after mealtime? Did you know their reluctance to wash their hands after a meal can affect how they eat during that meal?
So much of mealtime success depends on the eating environment and how toddlers perceive the entire experience. If they get their face scrubbed after eating - which many toddlers perceive as a negative sensory experience - many toddlers associate the entire eating process with negativity.
One feeding therapy technique from Judy (as found in our Toddler Course) involves cleaning up using 2 bowls - one with warm, soapy water and one with clean water.
Sadie, Megan’s niece, is shown here playing with these bowls independently, but of course we recommend assisting your toddler in dipping their hands in the bowls while you very gently wipe their face with a separate wet washcloth. Of course, help them avoid dumping water everywhere or eating the bubbles!
This serves multiple purposes - it helps clean your toddler’s hands faster, it gets them used to washing up after a meal, and it distracts them with something fun while you gently wash their face. They may be more likely to come to the table because they see the end of mealtime as a fun thing!
Our Toddler Course is full of tons of feeding therapy and nutrition techniques like these that will help you feel great about feeding your family. No more mealtime battles, no more begging or bribing, no more frustration around food.
You’ll receive access to our course indefinitely (as long as we’re selling/hosting them) and you can go back and watch them as often as you’d like. Read the feedback our clients have given us about the course - we look forward to helping your family as well!
Do you have a child that wants to be independent? Perhaps your child is also becoming more selective about foods. Guess what? You can utilize their desire to do things themselves in a positive way to promote successful mealtimes!
Foodie Judy here, back for another feeding therapy installment! Incorporating a motor skill into the eating process can be a great way to interest children in food - kids are more inclined to eat what they created! Plus, children are hard-wired to practice, practice, practice until they master a skill, so even if they’re initially uninterested in eating a cutie mandarin segment (a wet, squishy food) when served, suddenly it’s a fun food to eat when they get to peel it.
We love serving cuties because they’re inexpensive, a perfect size for little hands, and contain a lot of vitamin C - important in absorbing iron! This is a great activity for kids 18+ months, as they start to utilize more bilateral coordination at that age (one hand holds the object, the other does the work). This skill is important for so many tasks as they get older, including playing instruments, cooking and creating artwork.
Here's the steps for teaching your child to peel a cutie:
If your child struggled to peel the cutie peel, start by having them pull apart the segments first. Get the peel started so they can more easily continue peeling it off. Check out Megan’s daughter Mia practice this exercise by swiping through this Instagram post. She happened to really want to eat the cutie because it’s a favorite food, but notice that she was adamant that she peeled it herself. The last video is my favorite. Show your kids the videos and try it together!
Here are some developmental goals of this activity:
Need more help with a picky eater? Check out our toddler course!
Breakfast burritos are amazing for adults and kids alike because you can modify them to your tastes and dietary needs (see below for allergy/diet modifications), plus they’re super easy and delicious!
Sometimes babies, toddlers and kids are overwhelmed by burritos in their whole form and do better with deconstructed options, so above is one way you could present breakfast burrito ingredients to your tot - using an ice cube tray! (This is a silicone tray from Target purchased this past summer.) Shown here are tortilla, eggs, cheese, beans, guacamole and salsa (2 flavors). Yes, babies and kids can eat spicy foods - just start slowly! Some of these foods contain salt, so if you serve these to babies under 12 months just go easy on salty foods the rest of the day.
Since breakfast burritos from restaurants can be so filling, we’ve shown half of a burrito here. The most important thing is not rigid “portion control,” but rather eating until your body is comfortably full and satisfied.
The ice cube tray spaces are really small - the image isn’t to scale next to the full burrito so you can see it better. Each section has about 1 tablespoon of food. Keep offerings small for kids so they’re not overwhelmed - they can always have more than what you serve, and if they don't eat it you waste less food.
Here are some of our favorite breakfast burrito ingredients:
Need to modify your burrito for allergies or dietary concerns?
What causes a dislike of mixed textures?
Do you have a child who hates mixed texture foods like casseroles or soups? Perhaps they don’t like toppings on their sandwich or pizza...sound familiar? Judy here to discuss some occupational therapy strategies utilizing sensory play that can decrease selective eating. The dislike of mixed textures originates from the sensory system and your child’s level of tolerance for different tactile (touch) inputs.
Interestingly enough, when you let your child play with mixed textures in a safe, no-pressure way (where they don’t have to eat it), you help their comfort level when they’re presented mixed texture foods at mealtime. Tactile tolerance also helps in every day life - it will be easier to put sunscreen on their face, clip their nails, or wash their hair when they can tolerate these types of touch. This is just one type of tactile input - dry items - and we’ll show you in upcoming posts how to transition to wet or even “gooey” textures, which helps them to tolerate multiple types of foods when eaten.
Read all about sensory processing in this post.
How do we do this in a gradual way using dry textures first? See images below for examples of each step.
Words of advice:
Megan and Judy, co-owners of Feeding Littles, bring you helpful info on food, nutrition, picky eating, and feeding young children. Megan McNamee MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Judy Delaware, OTR/L is an Occupational Therapist specializing in feeding therapy with children 3 and under in Boulder, Colorado. Megan and Judy are both moms of two and love helping families develop a healthy appetite for all foods!