How do I get my very stubborn 2 yr old to eat healthy food? She won't even try!

Lisa - posted on 01/07/2011 ( 10 moms have responded )

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I have 2 daughters Grace is 5 and Ella is 2 and wont try any of healthy the food i give her, I've always made home cooked healthy meals for my family and never had a problem getting my eldest to eat it, but the little one flat refuses, everything is "yucky" all she asks for is toast, they have little treats like nuggets every now and then, mainly when they stay with their grandparents. I've tried not giving her anything after but that means she wakes up in the night starving but i really dont want to encourage bad habits by feeding her. I thought it was a phase but this has been going on for sometime now, what do i do i really dont want to feed her junk food!

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Angie - posted on 01/07/2011

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Don't giver her what she wants give her what she needs. Never be a short order cook in your own home; what is on the table is what we are eating and if you don't want to eat it, you don't have to - but I'm not making anything else.. If she wakes up hungary a few times and is only offered healthy food at that time, she will soon learn to eat what you know is best for her. Create a rule about toast. Maybe, "toast is for breakfast only" or, "toast is for breakfast unless we peanut butter on it". Be tough, I know this isn't easy.

Laura - posted on 01/07/2011

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Stay strong, Lisa! Kids go through periods of appetite change, too. Growth spurts, growth slow-downs, teething, illness--all of those things can change a child's appetite and, IMO, tastes for foods.

You mention that she is very strong-willed, which does present a variable that needs to be taken into consideration. Strong-willed children want control, feeding on their own desires only. One way to give a strong-willed child a sense of control is to give them the ability to make choices. My daughter is strong-willed, too, but I hardly notice because of the parenting method we've used with her when she was little (she's 12 now). This method can help in other areas where power struggles erupt with strong-willed kids.

The premise is pretty simple: YOU control the choices that are offered with no need to negotiate or offer anything else. As the parent you can stand firm here. But by allowing your daughter to make a choice from what you offer, however, SHE gets the sense of control over herself she wants. Her choice reflects her desires, not yours. This method can avoid "power struggles" (which is what is happening with the mealtime issue, IMO) and give you and your daughter control over the situation. It can be a win-win scenario.

Starting with your daughter's meals: Try offering her two choices for a meal. An example would be offering her the choice of a ham sandwich or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (common lunch choices here in the States!). She then gets to pick which one. There are rules with making choices like this: She gets to pick what she eats, but she needs to at least eat (number of bites here) before she can be excused from the meal. If she refuses to choose from what you offer, you will pick for her. That always motivated my daughter! The number of bites needed to fulfill the choice rule, for us, was 1 bite per year of age, at least when my daughter was little. These had to be full bites, not "mouse nibbles". Once the requirement was fulfilled, my daughter was free to leave the table. Sometimes that's all she ate and sometimes she polished off her whole meal, it depended on what her body needed. I still carry the meal choice out now because she IS a picky eater and some of her favorite foods aren't very healthy! There is a compromise with her that I allow: At least once or twice a month she gets to eat one of her favorite meals. Ramen noodles with canned chicken (yuck, IMO) or macaroni and cheese with canned tuna (better, but not by much). That compromise helps keep the peace! : ) Hope this gives you a better idea of what might work and best of luck to you!

Dora - posted on 01/07/2011

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Try giving her a choice between 2 foods that are healthy. This way she thinks she has control on what she is eating. Just keep at it and don't give up. Don't give her the junk food as healthy eating habits begin at a young age. I can definitely understand that you don't want her to go to bed hungry. If she doesn't eat what you offer her then offer her something else that is really healthy. She will eventually learn that only healthy foods are served in your household. I am not saying for you to become a short order cook but I can't see letting a child go hungry just because. There are too many children in this world that go hungry because of unfortunate circumstances. Your goal is to teach her healthy eating habits and you can accomplish this with being consistent and positive. At that age she is still learning different tastes and textures that she needs to get used to. Also don't forget her molars may be coming in and that can make it difficult for her to eat. I hope things work out.

Keisha - posted on 01/07/2011

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Ahhhh...just put ketchup on it! LOL! :o) Seriously though, when my kids don't want to eat what I've cooked, I just throw some ketchup or barbecue sauce, cheese or something on it and the eat it right up.

Amy - posted on 01/07/2011

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Like others, I said I was not a restaurant and when supper was served, that's all they got. I've saved it before on a plate and if they claimed hunger, I got out the same plate they had at supper. They eventually get hungry and eat. Butter makes every cooked vegetable more appetizing to kids. Try leaving carrots or celery and peanut butter or raisins or nuts or something out to snack on since they probably still get snacks. Keep some kind of crackers like toasteds sesames or something - three crackers and some water at night if she wakes "starved". Oh, maybe you could have them help cook or prepare some of it. the confidence in "I made this!" may make them eat it. ??

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Angie - posted on 01/07/2011

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I'm not sure can get this cookbook where you live but give it a try. It is call, "Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to get your kids eating good food" The author is Jessica Seinfeld. It is under $7 in the US.

Lisa - posted on 01/07/2011

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I never give into her as she is so strong willed im worried if i crack even slightly she will take full advantage of it. She eats grapes and occasionally she'll have apples but she wont eat any of her tea, last night i made poached chicken with veggies and she put it in her mouth and spat it straight back out, she goes off things very quickly so i've run out of ideas of what to make. I never make more than 1 meal for the family if they dont want it its tough luck really! Its very frustrating as i cant bare the sound of her rumbling tummy but i dont want to give in!

Laura - posted on 01/07/2011

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Ah, the differences between siblings! Angie is right--you are not a short-order cook. Those are the rules in our house, have been since the beginning: I fix the meals for everyone, no special orders! My daughter isn't always happy with my choices, but she generally tries stuff and eats until she is full. Remember, too, that most kids are good about eating what their bodies need and not much else. You are presenting healthy food to her with the opportunity to eat what she wants.

Don't make the meal a big deal either, she may actually be "attention-seeking" from you, knowing that NOT eating her food will get her plenty of attention! The more you fuss over her, the more you actually feed into that dynamic. Continue to present her with the opportunity to eat healthy foods and when the meal is over that is it. You can try including a food of hers that you know she'll eat into the main meal so she gets something, other than that let it go.

She may wake at night hungry but you know she will get breakfast in the morning! Being hungry during the night won't harm her. Establishing poor eating habits could! Stick to your regular schedule of eating and don't worry about the nighttime hunger. If, however, you feel you must offer her something in the night, save her uneaten dinner and offer her that! If she IS hungry she'll pick at it enough to satisfy herself. Otherwise wait until breakfast.

Again, approach this in a business-like, unattached way; your attitude (stress!) about her eating habits are picked up by your daughter and she will react accordingly. If it's no big deal to you she will pick up on that and may lose some of her "fight" over food.

One final suggestion: Get creative and artistic with presenting your meals! Create food "sculptures" or "draw" pictures with condiments. Make those healthy foods seem fun! This might change her perspective, literally, of what is being eaten. There are some fun, creative cookbooks on the market about creating food "art" so check your local library or bookstore for options. You could even have a family "food art" night where everyone gets to make an artistic dinner. This can't hurt and might help with everyone having some food fun! Hope this helps and Bon Apetite!

Brooke - posted on 01/07/2011

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My advice would be to put the toaster up high, so you know she can't try to make it herself, then set an alarm in the morning for about half an hour after breakfast time. tell her that signals the end of toast time- before that she can have it, but after it goes off she has to eat what she is told. Also, I know it sounds harsh, but she will not starve in the space of a night. if you refuse to give her anything other than what is served for tea- even when she wakes later- she will soon get the idea that she eats what is on the plate or she will spend the night hungry. trust me, she will figure it out pretty quick. But, like all parenting, this relies on you being strong-willed and not giving in, even if she tells you her stomach is eating itself!

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