What Parents Can Do
Dietary tastes and habits start early, so what your child eats and the options he's given in the toddler years help shape eating habits that last the rest of his life. (No pressure!) Our goal as parents should be variety and balance, but how do you force those servings of green vegetables past the nose that your toddler is now turning up?
Catch them when they are their hungriest. I'm not sure about your house, but when dinner is being prepared in our kitchen is the hungriest time of day for my kids. Waiting that extra 15 minutes for dinner to be cooked and placed on the table is the exact time when all my kids are expecting to perish of starvation. So we are ready with the vegetables! Canned peas and carrots in a bowl to pick at for infants and young toddlers, cut up veggies with a low-fat salad dressing dip, and pureed veggies in a bowl with crackers or unsalted bread sticks to dip with are all fun finger foods for most toddlers.
Cook with stealth. Those same pureed carrots, the ones you haven't used since infancy, can be dumped into Mikey's macaroni and cheese. You can't pick them out and it doesn't change the color dramatically. Veggie breads often work with toddlers: Consider spinach bread or zucchini muffins. (Rachael Ray's recipe for them is yummo, but don't include the pistachios. No nuts for kids until they can spell them!)
I have a Dad in my practice who is a chef. His kids love milk but hate their veggies. He has learned to steam their veggies in milk instead of water and his kids love them! (Nothing I would have thought of, certainly!)
Set a good example. Not infrequently I ask parents point blank, "Do you eat vegetables?" "Nope, can't stand them." Well that's a problem! We all know that toddlers watch and emulate every move we make. This can make a slip of the tongue when you are cut off in traffic with your kids in the back seat very dangerous. But it can work in your favor, too. A child who sees Dad yumming up his green beans and happily finishing off the end of the bowl will be infinitely more likely to try them himself.
Have reasonable expectations. A serving size is small in a young toddler (the size of the palm of his hand). You should neither expect him to eat a full sandwich nor a whole banana. And one decent meal a day is pretty good for most toddlers. If you can catch that wave and maximize variety at that meal, you have done your job.
For kid-friendly recipes and a neat produce tracking device, check out the Fruits & Veggies—More Matters™ site from the Produce for Better Health Foundation. Also, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recipe database lets you search by any ingredient you have to make a nutritious family meal—neat!