Learning to Feed a 3-year-old, Part II

Three-years-old is a tough age for development. Don't let it make meal times stressful. Check out this post from Don't Panic Mom about some easy tips.

I’ve had a lot of interesting meals with my three year old, Middle E. He likes to push back and it’s rarely just about food. He knows he has my attention at meals and uses these frequent opportunities to test limits.

This week he has enjoyed using the word hate to describe nearly everything on his plate.

“But I hate onions!” “I hate mushrooms!” “I hate limes!” “I hate jicama!”

This is where most parents understandably get into a power struggle with their kiddos. Or cook a completely different meal. Or the worst, offer ice cream as the grand reward for finishing a few bites. I’ve been there, gang. Being a parent is exhausting and preparing food is an endless task.

Meals with toddlers don’t have to cause panic.  Get in the habit of making mealtime less stressful by eliminating high expectations. Spend time talking to each other. Make it a grand event with a few candles in thrift store candlesticks. This will help your kids understand that they are not under the radar for a specific number of bites.

When Middle E bellowed his veggie hate speech, I didn’t yell back or try to convince him to take back his slander. I said, “You need to taste it first before you decide that you hate it.” (Even though he’s enjoyed these foods in the past.) I left it alone and continue enjoying time with the fam.

He eventually chowed down on the onions, mushrooms, and jicama. With me silently cheering. He removed the limes from his water, which I can totally live with. I know it helped to walk away from a potential power struggle. It helped even more to give him permission to dislike these foods.

Meals are great for kids to practice making choices. However, it’s a parent’s job to set the parameters for the choices. You’d never let a toddler decide whether to swish with fluoride rinse or Mountain Dew. If Middle E decided not to eat the food, he wouldn’t get a different meal. My kids know that if they don’t want what I cook, they are welcome to eat carrots out of the crisper drawer. Seriously.

Here are some more choices to empower your little warrior that don’t involve choosing broccoli over a Slurpee. You’d be surprised at the compliance you’ll get at the table when you let them be in charge of one of these things:

  • Would you like the veggies in a bowl or on a plate?
  • Would you like the sandwich cut into triangles or rectangles?
  • Would you like an apple or grapes?
  • Would you like the carrots sliced into sticks or coins?
  • Would you like a red bowl or a green bowl for your salad?

What else do you do to help toddlers relax and enjoy food with the family?

Here’s one of my favorite Middle E inspired posts. Hopefully you’ve got someone at your house that likes to test boundaries, too.

And just in case you’re sympathizing over the fact that my kids have to eat carrots, check out this post about my ankle-biting carrot-cravers.