By Sydney Loney
Bananas, oatmeal, cheese and chicken nuggets — when it comes to cuisine, Tai likes beige best. “If he sees a fruit or veggie, he freaks out,” says Tai’s mom, Nicky Poole. “He’ll pick out the tiniest speck of colour in his food.” But the Toronto mom is tired of tension at the table. The battles began when Tai started solids and escalated whenever a new food appeared on his plate. By the time he was 18 months, mealtimes usually ended with someone in tears. “It was traumatic for all of us,” Poole admits.
Toddlers often turn up their noses at unfamiliar foods, but it’s important not to give up, says Lianne Phillipson-Webb, registered nutritionist and founder of Sprout Right Nutrition in Toronto. “You need to have patience,” she says. “If you introduce a new food and it’s rejected, don’t write it off forever — it can
take 12 to 16 tries before a toddler really takes to it.”
The key is to start small and keep expectations low. “If you anticipate it isn’t going to go well, just give them a small amount to taste,” says Phillipson-Webb. “Toddlers are into theatrics, so if they take a nibble, celebrate with fanfare: clap, dance, raise your arms in the air.” The main thing is to avoid becoming a short-
order cook — you don’t want to be running to the kitchen for grilled cheese every time new foods are hurled from the high chair. “It’s important to create gentle boundaries,” says Phillipson- Webb. “Tell your child to take one bite of each thing and, if that’s all he wants, then that’s all there is until tomorrow. Toddlers won’t starve themselves, but if you give in and get them other food, they’ll quickly learn to hold out and wait.”
The dinner table should never become a battleground, she adds, and it helps if you make new foods fun. She recommends making up food songs, or arranging food in fun patterns on the plate. “Making up fun names for new foods helps too. A spoonful of squash with a pat of butter in the middle is much more appealing when it’s an “orange volcano.”
Brandon Boone found starting with a staple and adding on worked wonders with his daughter Ella, now two. “She’s a total foodiesays the Winnipeg dad. “Just after she turned one, she ate what we ate.” Ella’s favourites include quesadillas, lasagna and pasta bolognese. “If she turned something down, we never freaked out,” he says. “We’d just try a variation next time and say, “okay, you don’t like kidney beans, so we’ll try black beans.”
Maintaining a relaxed atmosphere can make a big difference at mealtimes, says Dr. Cheryl Mutch, a pediatrician in Burnaby, B.C. and co-author of The Good Food Book for Families (Random House). “It’s important not to put too much pressure on kids. Often if they see mom and dad enjoying something, they’ll want to try it too.” Letting them pick out fruits and vegetables at the store can also help, she says. “Involving them brings you one step closer to getting them to accept the new food.”
Now that Tai has turned three, Poole has relaxed her approach when offering him new foods. “I cook with him, involve him in the kitchen and put fruit and vegetables on his plate at every meal. He never eats them, but I don’t get upset anymore because someday, he will.”
“Most of the time, toddlers don’t want everything to be bland,” says Phillipson-Webb. Here are some tips for introducing new flavours: Give veggies added appeal with a squirt of lemon, grated cheese or a dressing for dipping; spread apple butter on fish to reduce the intensity of the flavour; experiment with different cooking methods, such as steaming, baking or sautéing.
Sydney Loney, a Toronto writer and co-founder of justthefactsbaby. com, makes snow-covered trees (broccoli with Parmesan) for her son.