The worst thing in the world about working full-time – whether you’re at an office or a stay-at-home parent – is to have that adorable little face look up at you around dinner time and wrinkle his nose at what you’ve offered for a meal.
Nine times out ten, if I ask Thomas what he wants for dinner the answer is going to be macaroni and cheese. As much as it pains me, he eats Kraft Blue Box more often than I’d like. He’s the only one who does eat it, so when I make it for him the leftovers last for days. I prefer to make him homemade mac & cheese, but it’s not always possible. Homemade mac & cheese can be as elaborate as you want or it can be simple – I make a simple stovetop one that takes 15-20 minutes (see the post for 3/6/12).
But Thomas can’t have mac & cheese every day of the week, as much as he would like to. Fortunately for us, we’re able to tempt him with other things. Trying to find what a toddler likes to eat can be a huge trial and error process. There have been nights where he’s eaten a container of greek yogurt and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because what was in front of him was not palatable to him. If I’m indulging him or creating a picky eater, I’m sure I’ll be sorry later on. He won’t, as people tell me sternly all the time, go hungry if he doesn’t eat his dinner. Intellectually, I know that. There have been nights where he’s picked three bites off his plate and announced he’s done. Maybe it’s the Italian genes in me freaking out that he’s too skinny and he must eat or maybe it’s the innate people pleaser in me that wants everyone to be happy. Or maybe he’s just not hungry or he’s being a brat. Food gives kids a lot of power over their parents. It’s best not to let them realize that, but when they do it can make meal times a huge struggle. Every parenting article about picky eaters I’ve ever read says to always put at least one thing you know the kid will eat on the plate so they have something to eat at the meal.
The important thing, for us anyway, is to keep trying. To keep offering him something that he may not have tried before. And if we fib slightly about what it is, is that so bad? (We had lamb for Easter and told him it was steak, which he loves. He ate most of it, too. I think he might think all red meat is steak because he’ll also eat roast beef.)
So far, we have not been successful with green vegetables or eggs. Since he’s only two and a half, I’m not too worried about either of those. If he never likes scrambled eggs, the world will not end. He’ll eat pancakes and french toast and be happy. He will also eventually come around on the green vegetables; it’s just a question of when.
The following “recipes” are what I offer Super Toddler on a weekly basis. This doesn’t even cover what I know he eats at school.
Most days, Thomas eats a piece of fruit for breakfast before he has cheerios or kix at daycare. Bananas are always a win for him, but he’s also really into strawberries, grapes, blueberries, apples, oranges, and pears. If he has grapes, he always has to have a Gerber cereal bar with them. It’s a thing with him. Some mornings, he’ll ask for yogurt. He will eat any kind of yogurt we offer. I buy him Chobani Greek yogurt, Stonyfield’s Yo Kids, and a kid version of Dannon that comes in tiny little orange packages. My friend Ans freezes the Dannon ones and uses them as a treat for her daughter, so I’m stealing that idea from her this summer. Now, though, they make a good morning snack after a piece of fruit. He’ll also eat regular fruit on the bottom yogurt as well – he calls it Daddy’s yogurt because Steve brings it to work every day. Unsurprisingly, my Yoplait has not tempted him.
Weekends, we offer him eggs, but he’ll usually settle for for Cheerios if we’re not having pancakes. Although it kills me to say this, Thomas prefers blueberry pancakes to chocolate chip ones. How a child of mine prefers fruit pancakes to chocolate ones is baffling. My mom’s made him French toast before and he enjoys that, as well as frozen waffles. Before he was utensil capable, we’d cover his pancakes with organic strawberry preserves or jam; now that he eats with a fork, he prefers maple syrup.
Muffins and bagels are a daycare thing, although he has been known to ask for muffins when we go grocery shopping. But at home, if he has a muffin, he asks for yogurt to go with it. We bribe him with munchkins at the grocery store to stay in his seat, so there’s usually a donut or a munchkin for mid morning snacks.
His new thing is toast. A million years ago, my favorite books were about Frances, a sassy badger whose parents awesomely tricked her into liking her baby sister, going to bed on time, and eating well-rounded meals. Reading these books as an adult has brought on a whole new appreciation for them. It’s like watching the Muppets as a grown up; the things you loved are still awesome, but now you get why your parents laughed too. Anyway, in Bread and Jam for Frances she eats nothing but bread and jam until her parents brilliantly manipulate her into trying different foods. We’ve read Bread & Jam for Frances about a hundred times now (conservative estimate) and Thomas has decided that toast with jam for breakfast (or lunch or dinner) is an excellent idea. Thankfully, he doesn’t insist on eating it 24/7 like Frances, but it’s still a thing. A messy thing.
Morning and afternoon snacks at home are almost always string cheese sticks, fruit, or cereal bars. If he sees a bag of goldfish or pretzels or crackers, he’ll ask for them, which is why he rarely sees them. It’s rare he’ll ask for those out of the blue. When I can, I buy the whole grain goldfish, but the bulk cheddar kind are so much cheaper. The other big thing for my little guy is fruit snacks. I buy the Welch’s ones in bulk and they come in tiny little packages that are the perfect size for him. These are awesome for dr’s offices, car rides, and anywhere I need him to be patient.
The awesome daycare ladies at Thomas’ school are amazing at getting him to eat whatever’s put in front of him. There’s probably some not so subtle peer pressure involved (Look, Tanvi’s eating it! Darien’s eating it! Dylan’s eating it! You should try it!), but these ladies have to get 12 two year olds to eat at the same time. Hats off to them and let them do what they need to.
At home, Thomas eats turkey sandwiches, peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, tomato soup with pasta and goldfish (gross, I know), and turkey dogs for lunch. When I can get him to eat lunch.
Weekends are a tricky thing at The Yellow House on the Corner. Nine times out of ten we’re not home when he should be eating lunch and he’s probably eaten a handful of munchkins or a donut or had a lollipop or some other such horror that perfect parents are recoiling at as they read this. Relax. This is the kid who ate nearly a whole watermelon in three days. A little sugar on the weekends isn’t going to kill him. Since his favorite game these days is “Chase Me Mummy” he’s getting his exercise, too. (Oh, you’ve never played this game? It goes something like this. Mummy: Hey, pal. Time for (fill in the blank here: sunscreen, lunch, dinner, diaper, potty, trip to the store, etc). Thomas: No. Mummy: Thomas, please get in the car/house. Thomas: Runs down the sidewalk. Chase me, Mummy! Sometimes I just tell him I’m coming for him and he runs off with a mad cackle.)
And here’s where we sometimes come to a grinding halt. Asking a two year old what he wants for dinner is admittedly a stupid thing to do. Ask mine and the answer is inevitably mac & cheese. He might shock me sometimes and say turkey burgers. Usually, I will offer him a suggestion for dinner: Thomas, do you want turkey burgers or chicken for dinner? If he doesn’t pick something else entirely, he’ll tell me which one he wants and that’s what he gets. Everyone wins at something.
The dinner menu at our house is usually set on Saturday mornings before I leave for the grocery store so I buy only what I need for meals. It’s cheaper that way and I’m not throwing things away at the end of the week. I recently forgot to freeze a pack of chicken tenders and it made me so sad to have to pitch them. Total waste of money, but they smelled like salmonella so out they went. When I build my dinner menu for Steve and me, I try to think about if Thomas will eat any version of it. If I know he won’t, I try to make something the night before that I know he’ll eat so I have leftovers for him on the night he won’t eat what Steve and I are eating. Does that make sense?
It’s not always pretty, but I sometimes fib to him about what he’s eating. I asked him the other night if he wanted lasagna and he said no. Then I asked him if he wanted spaghetti. The answer was yes. He ate the lasagna, but he thought it was spaghetti. Everyone was happy and he ate the whole thing without complaint. I guess it’s all in how you present it.
Pasta’s always a no brainer at our house. I buy the Barilla vegetable pasta for him, the one made with squash. It’s orange and shaped like stunted elbows. Cover that with sauce and he’ll devour the bowl. He will also eat elbows. If I’m using jarred sauce, I’ll use whatever I have on hand. I try to buy low sugar sauces – the Bertolli ones are pretty decent. If I can make homemade, I’ll add ground turkey or low fat ground beef to add some protein.
Mac and cheese is always a winner, homemade and Blue Box.
For protein, I usually have turkey burgers (covered with melted American cheese and ketchup, of course), turkey dogs (all white meat ones), steak, hamburgers (also covered in American cheese and ketchup, of course), and chicken.
For Thomas, I lay off the soy based marinades I like and use either Ken’s Lite Northern Italian dressing or just lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil for the chicken if there’s no rush to get it on the table. He’ll eat it plain, too, but I find he eats more of it if it’s been soaked in some sort of marinade. He ate the chicken with the mayo marinade I made on 5/19/2012. Usually, he’s happy with honey mustard on the side for his chicken, but lately he’s been asking for ketchup. Every time I give it to him, I gag a little, but if that’s how he’s going to eat his chicken, ketchup it is.
Like any kid, he likes his finger food. Tater tots and french fries and occasionally (depending on his mood) fish sticks. That’s usually the only fish I can get him to eat. He tried salmon a couple times, but it’s never been his favorite thing to eat. I make him chicken nuggets sometimes, but he actually prefers regular chicken to the breaded nuggets. Which thrills me to no end. He’ll eat homemade breaded chicken cutlets before the nuggets.
We don’t bribe him with dessert to finish his dinner. That’s just not how we are. Either he eats his dinner or he doesn’t. Even if he’s finished before us, the rule is he either sits at the table until we’re done eating or he plays in the kitchen with his cars until Mummy & Daddy are done. I want him to understand that dinner is family time as much as everything else is. By keeping us all together, I hope I can instill that.