“My Toddler Will Only Eat Peanut-Butter-&-Jelly Sandwiches!” How it happens, how to avoid it, how to change it
When your baby hits toddlerhood, a lot of normal changes occur, but a couple of things in particular:
- His appetite becomes less reliable. He’s not growing as fast anymore, for one thing, so sometimes he won’t feel like eating at all, or less than before.
- He starts asserting his individuality. He starts wanting to call some of his own shots.
Where parents go wrong in response to these changes:
- They think it’s not OK if their toddler doesn’t eat anything or very little one day. They get worried. They get the mindset that he has to eat something and that it’s their job to make sure he does. They begin to interfere with his natural appetite and natural ability to self-regulate. Said toddler also notices that not eating gets an interesting reaction from his parents.
- They offer the toddler something else to eat in an attempt to get him to eat something. This is exactly how parents “discover” that their child “won’t eat anything but _____.” This right here is how it happens, how the situation is created. Why would I not choose being in control of Mom, getting extra attention and getting my favorite treat all the time? This pattern is not one you want to establish.
- They fail to establish good structure and routines. If the parents haven’t already gone wrong in this way (and they probably have), they start letting their toddler eat inferior foods and at random times because (a) they don’t realize the key concept of regular meals and the scheduled snack, and (b) because they are worried about their child not eating enough. I understand and sympathize with both of these reasons, but I also offer you a solution.
How to Save your Toddler from Transforming from a Normal Toddler into a Picky Eater
- Move steadily toward regular meals. No random snacking. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, with one to two planned snacks, depending on age. This is essential for making sure your child has a good appetite for meals and develops normal eating patterns.
- Offer only a wide variety of the most optimal possible food choices. Every time you sit down at the table. That means whole, nourishing, real foods, well prepared, delicious and enticing. Not stuff that comes out of factory packages of any kind, but stuff you prepare in the kitchen. As a family, enjoy a vast array of healthy foods and balanced meals, for love, not duty. Peanut-butter-&-jelly isn’t the worst thing to eat, but it’s far from the best, and humans need variety in food. Lead the way to healthy eating, don’t follow your child’s preferences. Notice I said “sit down at the table.”
- Never, ever ask your child to eat or even try anything. Kids will want to try things unless they are pressured to try things. Why would you fall right into your toddler’s quest for an opportunity to say, “No!” As soon as you make eating (something they naturally want to do) something you want them to do, it becomes something they don’t want to do. Don’t try to control their eating, other than restricting their access to every edible other than delicious food that will really nourish them, at the right time (mealtime) and place (the table). The more you pressure them to eat, the more they’ll seize control for themselves in bad ways. Enjoy your own food and have a pleasant conversation at the table. Notice I said, “at the table.”
- Never offer alternatives to the good meal you’ve chosen for them. If they’re not hungry, they shouldn’t eat. If they are hungry, they know what to do. Make it clear you won’t bail them out after dinner. They know meals and certain snacks times are the only times they get food, so let them take responsibility for their own tummies. It’s not cruel, it’s putting your child in touch with and in charge of his own body. It teaches them to be civilized. If they ask for alternatives, say, no, “We don’t eat peanut butter and jelly at every meal.” Make all kinds of good rules like this, starting with, “We don’t….” or “We do….” For example: “We only get to eat when it’s time to eat” and “We don’t tell Mommy what she fixed is yucky. That’s not nice. You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want.” Be sweet and loving but unwavering. They’ll get the picture. Remember, you know more than your toddler.