“Food Moods”

Hi everyone,

It has been a few days since my last post.  Mainly because I feel like a frazzled muppet these days:  My daughter is 2, I am six months pregnant, I started a part-time job and am still on the hunt for literary cookbook agents.  In between all that we’ve dealt with some fevers (105 for my daughter. that was not fun), business trips and snow storms.  And a lot of toddler (and parent) meltdowns.
It’s the toddler meltdowns I want to focus on.  I know my little one is 2, and everything these days seems to be a power struggle (“I want to do it by myself! It’s mine! No help mommy!”) which I hear from other parents is just part of the developmental stage.  But I am noticing not only are Kirina’s moods all over the place, but her “food mood” is similarly nuts (Actually that is something she actually likes eating.  Peanuts.  By the scoopful.  Like a chipmunk).  My once easy-going baby is now protesting foods she used to love.  Indian dal? Could eat it everyday.  Now she eats it, but only with her daddy.  Macaroni and cheese? Used to hate it, now asks for it.  Cinnamon yogurt smoothies? Love and now hate.  In the middle of a restaurant meal she rejects French fries, but scoops up some fresh cilantro from my quesadilla and shoves it all into her mouth.  I was relieved in that moment…I guess all her taste buds are not lost.
In writing a book about ethnic baby meals and incorporating spices into a child’s meals from day one, I always assumed I was raising a little one who would eat everything all the time.  She has tried every spice in my book, and every recipe ever told to me by an international mom or dad.  Her recent rejection of previously loved, well-seasoned meals, definitely had me a little worried. 
So, me being me (neurotic about knowledge, needing to know everything all the time, research whore) decided to study what my toddler’s taste buds are doing at the moment…whether they are behaving normally or whether I killed them with my cooking.
Thankfully, I did no harm. 🙂
If your toddler has a case of the “food moods” then don’t despair.  It’s normal!  Starting between 18 months and 2 years of age, toddlers do all sorts of things with their meals.  Some want the same thing every day, all the time, in the same plate with the same cup.  Others want nothing for 2 days, then feast on PBJ sandwiches for each meal (this would be my Kirina).  Some babies will just stop eating everything they used to eat in favor of French fries (or in Kirina’s case, just ketchup).
Why all the (in my opinion) strange foodie behavior?
Much of it has to do with your toddler wanting to be independent for the first time in his or her life.  It is a normal part of development.  They learn they can control their surroundings (or, well, they think they can) and this also leads to the power struggles, picky eating issues and simply screaming “no!” when you put something in front of them that they are not in the mood for.   It is good to put yourself in your toddler’s shoes for a bit…being told “no” or “don’t touch” or “not right now” all day long can be extremely frustrating.  Not having a choice really in what is served for breakfast, lunch or dinner adds to the lack of control feeling. 
How to Save Your Toddler’s Taste Buds
Is there a way to get out of the picky/fussy eater rut? Yes.  First and foremost keep in mind this is likely just a phase like everything else.  Great chefs, eaters and culinary masters were all fussy, bland-food eating, toddlers at some point.  They all grew into culinary wizards that now know the nuances of how to flavor a bouillabaisse and are even potty-trained to boot (another post entirely). 
Keep these points in mind during mealtime:
1.  Give your toddler choices
Don’t give in, just give choices.  If chili is what is for dinner tonight, offer him or her a choice of toppings “do you want cheese or salsa on top?”)  Same with fruits and vegetables…always offer a choice and let your little one make the decision.  This will help them feel empowered and more in control.
2.  Find your Zen place and don’t react
Sometimes your toddler just wants to get a rise out of you.  They push away a plate of food you’ve just lovingly prepared for them, scream or just plain go off on a tirade of “no’s.”  What to do? Nothing.  Use your zen/yoga skills to simply not react.  Tell your toddler something like, “ok, you’re not hungry? Let’s try to eat something later.”  Then end the meal and try serving the same meal again.  This avoids a big power struggle but also teaches your toddler that you are not giving in to his or her demands for ice cream for dinner.
3.  Never, ever give up on flavor or new foods
Above all, do not ever give up on feeding your little on a variety of foods.  It is a well-documented fact that it can take up to 20 tastes of particular ingredient or seasoning before a little one develops a taste for it or accepts it.  Of course your toddler will not grow up loving everything you eat or enjoy, but most of us parents give up too soon, often after only 2-3 tries of offering a certain food.  
4.  Last, but not least, remember flavor!
Sometimes toddlers just want a change.  A change of color, a change of flavor, a change of appearance.  So get creative and mix it up.  Use a white plate and put bright red, sliced strawberries and green kiwi on separate sides.  Add a drizzle of honey (over the age of 1 only please) or balsamic syrup (no, I’m not kidding, I’ve seen it work).  If you are serving pasta, let your little one “dress it up” with a sprinkling of oregano (a very “baby friendly” spice, see forthcoming Spice Cabinet section of this website) or a bit of aged parmesan…be sure to put a little of each out and let your toddler do the seasoning.  Chances are the first few times won’t go very well, but eventually the taste buds will make the connection between a seasoning and a food (basil or oregano with tomato sauce, dill with cooked carrots, etc.).  Over time your child will become accustomed to seasonings and new flavors.  As long as you lay the groundwork now for a varied diet, you are giving your child a chance to appreciate a varied repertoire of foods when they get older.
Above all, remember that food is fun.  Small tastes now, may turn into great loves later, so make this often challenging phase of eating and feeding as creative as you can.  Exposure is key!
From Kirina’s high chair to yours, bon appetit!
p.s. if anyone can help me figure out how to do the “accent aigu” on wordpress, please message me.  The English major/grammar police inside of me is already upset that I have to write “appetit” incorrectly.  Add some pregnancy hormones and the irritation is volcanic.  Alright, maybe that is a little melodramatic.  But you grammar people know what I mean.  If you are French you know what I mean even more.

One thought on ““Food Moods”

  1. Pingback: When Your Toddler Doesn’t Want to Eat… | R.B.Bailey Jr

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