No “Special” Meals for Toddlers

Oh, those tiny humans of ours! We LOVE them sooooo much!  The day comes when you have meal planned and want to serve pasta with sauce for dinner, but your 2 years old wants “Mac & Cheese”. And…hear comes the crying, full on tears of an upset two year old.”I WANT MAC AND CHEESE, WHAAAAAAA”.

We want to see our children grow and thrive and sometimes the sound and emotion of a temper tantrum can become intolerable to us. So we cave, and make them mac and cheese while we serve the rest of the family adult food.

I am going to come out and say it even it offends some of you. DON’T DO THIS. DO NOT PREPARE A SEPARATE DINNER FOR YOUR TODDLER. Let them eat the family meal you have prepared!

And here’s why:

  1. Although your child is special to you, your child is not special to the entire world in which s/he will eventually have to live in. Adjust them early to this fact. They will struggle less, have more empathy for others, and start learning important life skills early such as, “the world does not revolve around my toddler food preferences and I can’t afford a personal chef at age 2 anyway”.
  2. Why would you want double the work load of dinner time? Life is busy and a mother’s time is precious! If you are preparing signature dishes catered to each family member, you have lost your mind (I say this with love)! ONE meal = less prep time, less dishes, less stress.
  3. Have your toddler eat the same food as you to ensure a varied pallet which is important for establishing  life long taste preferences and decreasing the risk for childhood obesity. Don’t beleive me? Check out this research…  “The Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study (FITS), which provided data on the dietary patterns of 3022 infants and toddlers, revealed that 4 to 24 month old children typically consumed significant amounts of developmentally inappropriate, energy-dense, nutrient poor foods. Of particular concern was the finding that 18% to 33% of infants and toddlers consumed no distinct servings of vegetables on a typical day and when vegetables were consumed the most common choice was french fries.”  Let me reiterate here, french fries are a processed, deep fried (in hot boiling grease) food, NOT a vegetable.  
  4. You will curb the development of a truly “picky” eater. Have you ever heard other parents describe their child as a picky eater? Or a child who “only eats white foods”. This is a problem and it was reinforced by the parents. Why? Because they allow it. They provide the preferred food again and again rather than diversifying the offerings. Children need to try a food at least a half-dozen times to garner a “taste” for it.
  5. You are your child’s biggest role model. While it feels good to make your child happy in the moment, it’s actually a parent’s job to raise these babes into healthy, independent adults and contributors to society. By preparing ONE healthy family meal and setting the expectation that you ALL eat the SAME meal, you are raising a polite dinner guest, a child with a wide range of food preferences, and a child who will understand what foods are healthy to eat.

“Data indicate that … parental modeling in the toddler years play significant roles in establishing longer-term eating behaviors” (Birch, Savage, Ventura, 2007).

Yes, there will be some foods your child may never like. My daughter really dislikes squash in all varieties. She has disliked this vegetable since the pureed days of early eating (6-7 months old). But she understands that she has to take at least one bite of any food served for dinner, even the foods she doesn’t like – she still has to try it.

And to be real, you can certainly “add” a few extra foods to his/her plate you know they will eat. Maybe you add a few sliced strawberries or cheese cubes to the toddler’s plate. No harm done. If they actually do try a bite and honest to goodness dislike the meal, you can’t fault them for earnest trying. In these very rare scenarios, yes by all means, make them a PBJ, they’ve earned it.

Do you feed your child their own kid-friendly meals?

9 thoughts on “No “Special” Meals for Toddlers

  1. Claudette says:

    The food battles continue into the tween and teen years. Ultimately what I’ve learned personally (they’re 13 and 10) is that you have to focus on the big picture. They refuse to eat on a day or several days? They will eat again. They will survive. Only eat cereal every day for 3 days? It won’t kill them. (It might kill you but you’ll raise up again…:) )

    My challenges is the junk right now. When kids start having their own money and are going to school on their own, there will be junk. I wrote about it in my most recent post and it’s hair-pullingly agonizing for me, but…I gotta focus on the big picture. Otherwise I will drive myself insane.

    Having said that, I agree about the ‘one meal, eat it or not’ principle (most of the time). Sooner or later the penny drops.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrsmotherdirt says:

      I love your insight. My step-daughter is a tween and she is a sugar junky. Even as a toddler she would feign being full then ask for a treat. She always had room for dessert. As an only-child she was a tremendously picky eater (canned peaches, mac & cheese, pizza, peas, and bagels). Now that she has 2 sisters, if the 4 yr old is willing to eat something green and enjoy it, the big sister is compelled to at least “try” it. I have no complaints of my 4 yo. She is a great eater and at least tries everything on her plate. Fingers crossed it continues. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Caitlin says:

    HIlariously, we’ve often had the opposite problem. Our daughter was underweight her first year, so I honestly was doing anything I could to get her to eat between 6-18 months. She’s luckily a VERY diverse and adventurous eater, and she’s quite healthy now, so mission accomplished. The thing is, she does NOT like a lot of toddler foods. So when we want to do something easy like order a pizza, she sometimes gets her own baked fish fillet and broccoli. She doesn’t love cheese, so many of those toddler recipes (grilled cheese, mac n cheese, etc) are out the window. I often just give her some smoked salmon, crackers, some fruit or vegetables, and call it good. She loves sushi, soups, all fruits, and some vegetables, so it’s not too hard to find her heatlhy alternatives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mrsmotherdirt says:

      Haha! That’s great. A special meal once in a while is awesome. Especially the meals you are describing. I think it’s detmental when we allow them to have only “kid” food. Our culture has marketed so heavily to parents that childhood is a commodity (happy meals, instant mac & cheese in a cup, goldfish, chicken nuggets). Most food marketed to kids is not nutritious, but out kids desperately need nutrients to grow.


  3. ululani1987 says:

    I feed my 1 year old whatever we are eatings unless it “unhealthy” food. I try to make food for the whole family that doesnt restrict my son due to food allergies. He seems to understand that what mommy and daddy eats….so will I

    Liked by 1 person

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