Tomorrow, my little girl turns three.
She’s a sparkly princess, a glittering dancer who loves music and reading, and she’s already got the signs of being a lover of all arts. We celebrate the baby she was, the beautiful girl she is, and the woman she will become.
As she grows, she’s starting to watch me more and mimic me. She repeats what my husband and I say to her, and she watches what we do. Last fall, she and I went in for our flu shots at the same time. I abhor needles (it’s probably some sort of phobia), but I stayed strong as I got my shot. She watched carefully, and after I had my vaccine, she rolled up her sleeve, ready to do just like Mommy.
It’s the same thing with food, really. She watches what we eat. She sees what we put on her plate and what we put on ours. She watches what goes in our mouths. And sometimes – she mimics.
I want her to learn healthy habits during these toddler years, and that starts with what I put on my plate.
Alice was a fantastic eater as a toddler. She was always hungry and always wanting to try new foods. The only thing she adamantly refused was a bell pepper, and, from the eyes of a toddler, I can understand that. She would eat anything and everything.
Then, of course, came the so-called terrible twos, and for months, it seemed, the only foods she would eat were grilled cheese sandwiches and bananas. However, her pediatrician pointed out that it least it wasn’t chips or candy. At least both of her preferred items had some form of nutritional value.
Our nutritionist said Alice will always watch what we eat – and she will eat what we eat. And she does. Some days, she doesn’t want to eat anything, and other days she eats everything on her plate and begs for more.
I used to make her an individual plate because I assumed she wouldn’t like what we were eating (such as shrimp, gumbo, or a rice casserole). But this was a wrong attitude to take. Not only did it add extra work to me (And who needs that?), but it was also allowing her to dictate what she ate. I would put her plate in front of her, and if she didn’t like it, she’d let me know exactly what she wanted – usually a “cheese sandwich” and banana.
Recently, though, she started eating what we eat, for a couple of reasons. One, Kyle and I are working hard (again – it’s always an endless struggle, it seems) to eat healthier and incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our meals. I’m horrible at coming up with side dishes and putting veggies on our plates. But I am trying to get better at it. And if it’s a mixed dish, such as gumbo, I understand that Alice’s young taste buds may not be willing to eat it – so I serve her food individually and not mixed. Her rice is separated from the gumbo, and I pull out a few shrimp or some chicken for her to eat without being mixed with the rest of the gumbo.
I also – and this is what works for me; you have to find what works for you – don’t make her eat everything on her plate. I don’t believe this will help her learn to enjoy food. She has to try everything on her plate, but I take into account that, no matter how many times she tries them, she’s just not going to like some food. And that’s okay. As adults, we don’t like all kinds of food. And I don’t want her to be forced to eat something she doesn’t want. As long as she tries it, I’m okay.
Some days, we have great victories, like the time she tried grilled corn on the cob. It’s now a favorite. Other days, like the time I sautéed some asparagus, are not so good. She cried and threw the asparagus down on her plate – but at least she tried it.
And the great thing is that she will eat more than grilled cheese sandwiches and bananas. I love it when she asks to eat an avocado or an apple – with the skin on it! She is a blueberry lover, and she’s often a fan of tilapia and tomatoes.
Hopefully, with some effort and a little encouragement on my part and my husband’s part, we can install healthy habits in our little girl that will last a lifetime.