Q&A: All my toddler wants is sweets. How do I get him to eat healthy?
I have a two-year-old son, whom I consider to be a very picky eater. I know that not all children will eat everything that is placed in front of them, but a vast majority of them will at least eat pizza, pasta, some meat, some veggies, fruit, even crackers and cheese.
My son turned two in October, and since he turned one, he has only eaten pop tarts, cereal (select varieties), jello, cookies, candy (of any sort), and the one good thing: oatmeal. I consider him to have a sweet tooth. He won't even attempt to eat anything half-way healthy, not to mention that he doesn't eat three meals, two meals, or even one good meal a day. The only time I don't worry is when he eats cereal or pop tarts for breakfast, which isn't even everyday.
I have talked to his pediatrician about my concerns, and he doesn't seemed worred about this. My son's weight gain is good and he drinks plenty of fluids, but I don't know how to get him to even look at food, much less taste it. I have tried the pediatrician's theory, to have him eat what we eat or not at all, with the conviction that eventually he will eat. It doesn't work, my little boy would rather go for days with no food.
Please help. I know he is hungry but all he wants is sweets, candy and chocolate pop tarts! I try so hard to not give in to this as I know it is not good for him but when he has gone for a couple of days without food, I give in, and it's so hard to put him to bed hungry!
Start by reframing the whole issue in your mind. This struggle isn’t about (or isn’t just about) food, it’s about control and independence. Eating and toilet training are the two most common areas in which toddlers assert their independence. Many conflicts arise as children start to think and do more for themselves. They can be as serious as the teen who steals and as silly as the four-year-old who insists on wearing his Batman outfit to the restaurant. Not all battles are worth fighting.
Is yours? The answer first depends upon whether your child is getting the calories he needs to grow. Secondly, on whether or not he is getting the balance of nutrients he needs to stay healthy.
There are scores of toddlers who exist on a narrow range of foods but who still get all the nutrients they need. I am concerned, though, that your child is getting the calories he needs but not the range of nutrients. From your list of foods, there isn’t a good source of protein or calcium (if he is a big milk drinker, milk would provide these), or the vitamins and fiber found in fruits and vegetables. To prove me wrong, you could try writing down what your son eats for a week and asking a nutritionist or your pediatrician to look it over. If your son’s food intake is inadequate, then it is a battle worth fighting.
- Offer him a few nutritious food choices at the dinner table. What he doesn’t eat in 20 minutes, wrap up for a snack later. Give him the power to choose, but from among healthy choices, berries, or orange wedges, for example.
- Don’t let him fill up on juice or milk before a meal, (a common toddler trick to take the edge off hunger) or to drink so much that his daily calories are met with liquid.
- Keep meals pleasant and stress-free, even if it means you leave the room because you are frustrated, and let someone else supervise the meal.
- Most importantly, don’t give in and offer him junk food, no matter how long he seems to go without eating.
No child of that age ever starves himself to the point of danger. Hunger is a powerful drive. If you limit the liquid, remove the stress and offer quality food instead of junk, he will begin to change his eating habits. This will not only make him healthier now, but it will promote better eating habits for the rest of his life.