I’m not a nutritionist. Fact is, most of the food we feed our kids won’t kill them and that means it’s good enough for my lads. So, if you’re looking for details on the most antioxidant-packed whole foods to puree and serve to your kiddo, you’re going to finish this post superbly disappointed.
No, this post is a practical guide to getting food successfully into the body of your child. As Jim Gaffigan has said, “There is no difference between a four year old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor.” Dadcraftsmen understand the gravity of this statement. Feeding small children can make grown men want to throw food on the ground. For whatever reason, I’ve developed a knack for successfully (success = somewhat balanced diet of food makes it quickly into the child’s digestive system) feeding children.
Before sharing my kid-tested strategies, I should add: I’m also assuming you’re on a budget. Dads of all incomes can admit that they would feed their kids those glorious squeezable food pouches every meal every day … if money wasn’t a factor. But it is, so we adapt.
1. Mind the “glue.”
Kids like things that are easy to eat; these edible “glues” can be really helpful. My favorite coagulates are yogurt, cottage cheese, and applesauce. While it might seem gross to adults, my kids love protiens mixed into these food glues. I regularly chop up our dinner (veggies, meats, pastas, etc.) into small pieces and spoon-mix it into a bowl of yogurt. It almost always goes down without a fight. Requiring less than a minute to prep, it is time-efficient for the little eater as well.
2. Mind the tools.
Sadly, dadcraft does not yet have any commercial partnerships with baby gear companies. So, these recommendations are based purely on the tools I’ve found work best for toddlers (ages 1-3). For tableware, you can’t do better than Ikea’s KALAS line. These unbreakable cups, plates, and bowls cost little more than disposable paperware. We’ve used their gear for years with no issues.
3. Mind the variety.
Nothing is more frustrating that preparing a scrumptious meal for your toddler and having him refuse to eat it. Our one-year-old, Abe, has been known to shake his head back-and-forth and spit out bites the little prince is disinterested in. Our older son, Desmond, was a regular food-chucker. While this can be grating, I’ve found it’s really helpful to acknowledge the likelihood of this from the outset. Plan on it, and be prepared with a few other food options along the way. Know the favorites and capitalize on them. Mix-and-match if you’re hitting resistance. Often, I’ll stow the scorned item in the fridge and bring it back out for the next meal … and — low-and-behold — it’s no longer the worst food ever.
4. Mind the body.
Eating is as much about the kiddo’s whole body as it is about the food and tools you’re using. Abe recently began swatting the incoming spoon on its approach. He finds this hilarious, and it’s certainly added a variable to our mealtimes. Here is where dads just need to find their inner Jedi and use our advanced intelligence and larger bodies to our advantage. Regularly remind yourself: You are bigger and smarter than your 2-year-old. Among my favorite tricks are 1) signaling an approaching spoonful with a “here it comes” (or the classic airplane on approach, if you prefer), 2) modeling for Abe what I want him to do (by opening my mouth as I deliver the food), and 3) carefully navigating the spoon toward him, assuming he’ll do something unexpected. If you have a child who calmly awaits each coming spoonful—terrific. But, most of us need to be prepared for spontaneity.
5. Mind the future self-feeder.
One of the hopes of toddler feeding? That the children learn to feed themselves. No kindergartner wants to have their teacher feeding them. The early years provide an opportunity to help our little ones learn the art of eating. We generally avoid the latest-and-greatest baby craze, but we did find Baby Led Weaning (their book is here) to be a helpful resource on the journey. In short, it encourages parents to feed real food to their babies early, avoiding mushes, purees, and those weird rice cereals.
We’re not purists about it—I mentioned the mushes I create in point #1—but we have found it helpful. So does WebMD, so that means it must be true. With each meal, barring tight time constraints, I try and give my little guy the opportunity to eat something unassisted. Self-feeding allows him to develop his dexterity and, hopefully, develop a taste for different textures and flavors at a young age.
It’s important to at least acknowledge that toddlers don’t eat as consistently as adults. Be it teething, growth spurts, or otherwise, many children won’t thrive on the standard “three-squares” routine that we do. Give them grace while you help them develop their skills.