Raising a foodie toddler

In response to yesterday’s meal post, a friend asked, “Does your son eat all of these recipes?”  It was a great question, and I want to share (and elaborate on) my reply.

As a note, I conducted childhood obesity research in grad school, so I’m fairly familiar with (and perhaps take for granted) a lot of the basic tips for helping kids learn healthy eating habits.

[Sir] eats almost everything, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  Some nights he looks at his plate and announces, “Need mo’ food,” which translates to, “I want different food.”  We always encourage him to try what’s on his plate, and we rarely offer alternatives.

Finishing the meal with some frozen blueberries
Finishing the meal with some frozen blueberries

When he’s less enthusiastic about something, I’ve found that simple things, like letting him serve himself, or making a slight modification to the dish (e.g., adding some chopped peanuts), can really help.

While we don’t force-feed him, or make him eat everything on his plate, we do sometimes help feed him the first few bites of something he’s uncertain about. If he takes to it, great, if not, that’s okay, too.

Nature or nurture?
All-in-all, he’s a pretty adventurous eater for a toddler. I don’t know how much of this is nature, and how much is nurture, which would include our use of the Baby Led Weaning approach.

We’ve basically offered him the same food he sees us eating, right from the start.  While there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with offering some pureed food, I dislike the new trend of the “squeeze pouches.”  It’s one thing to use one every once in awhile, for a snack on the go, but using them at the table, as a substitute for eating real meals, is a slippery slope.

As pointed out in this post on getting kids to eat vegetables, constantly offering alternatives at mealtime is also a slippery slope.  If given a choice, most kids (Gabriel included, I imagine), would choose grilled cheese or pasta over a quinoa dish.  Offering alternatives is tempting, to make meal time “easier” in the short term, but it can quickly become a cycle that creates the so-called “picky” eater that most parents hope to avoid.

Finally, involving Sir in as many aspects of “food to table” as possible seems to really help.  During the growing season, he spends almost every Saturday at the garden with Daddy and Baba, getting a hands-on lesson in where his food comes from, harvesting and nibbling fresh green beans, broccoli, and cherry tomatoes.  You don’t have to have 3000 square feet of garden to get your kids involved.  A small raised bed is a great place to start!

He loves to help me get his oatmeal ready every morning, and I involve him in other meal prep and kitchen work, time (and my sanity) permitting.  Recently, he’s enjoyed helping tear arugula for salads, though he was eating about as much as he was prepping — just raw arugula, no salad dressing required!  While I’m careful about not snacking close to meal times, I’m always happy when he wants to nibble on the vegetables I’m chopping.


  1. I agree with you entirely, letting you kids dictate what they eat for dinner leads to picky and fussy eating habits, most of which will be detrimental to their health in the long term

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