If you're a parent or caregiver, you know feeding a toddler a nutritious, healthy meal can be a trying experience. My three year old, for example, regards broccoli in the same way contestants on Fear Factor responded to a plate of worms and tarantulas. He's just not into it. When I attempted to hide chopped spinach in his beloved cheese quesadilla he screamed, "Oh no, Mommy, there's salad in it!" Frustrated and looking for new ideas, I chatted with Playing with Fire star and celebrity chef Anna Boiardi, who is also a mother to son Jack, 2 1/2, who gave me the lowdown on how she deals with mealtime in her house.
"When I was pregnant and looking for pediatricians, one of the reasons I chose the practice I’m at is they have a strong emphasis on nutrition," explains Anna, who is the author of Delicious Memories: Recipes and Stories From the Chef Boyardee Family. "Being a first-time mom, I felt like I needed some guidance even though I had bought a lot of books. I think it’s important to start early and have someone to help you. That being said, especially for someone who cooks, I think every toddler has their mind set on how they want to eat."
So how does Anna satisfy her little discerning diner? Here are a few tips:
• Try, Try Again
"One thing I always tell moms is don’t give up and don’t give in," she says. "Just keep trying and constantly offer new foods or get creative. My son will not eat any fruit that’s cut up. Every day I still offer it to him. If he sees me eating it he’ll try it. But for whatever reason he’s not interested. I make smoothies for him so that I can make sure he’s getting the nutritional value I want him to get from fruit." Jack's favorite smoothie blend? "I buy acai packets that come frozen and I do a smooth with acai, banana, strawberry, blueberry, water and the juice of one fuji apple," offers Anna. "That’s his favorite. It’s so high in nutrients and antioxidants and he loves it!"
• Deceptive Dining Is OK
"I do get sneaky hiding spinach in meatballs and I puree it and put it into soups," says Anna. "He doesn’t know he’s eating spinach all of the time but he is. It’s so easy to be frustrated and give up if they only want to eat mac-and-cheese. They’re not going to starve themselves and if you keep trying and you don’t give in, eventually you can change their eating habits."
• Get Organized
"One thing I do religiously is I’ll make a big batch of turkey meatballs and freeze them in little containers of two meatballs each so no matter what I always have something for him," says Anna. "This way if my husband and I want something a little more elevated that I know my son's not going to eat I don't have to cook a whole separate meal (for him). My son really likes tomato sauce so I’ll make tomato sauce and freeze it in an ice cube tray and then I pop out the cubes for a small portion of pasta. I’m very organized with his food. Whether I’m working and not at home or at home but don’t have time to do a whole separate meal I know that he’s always taken care of."
Catch Anna on E!'s Playing With Fire, airing Fridays at 8 PM.
What are your tricks for dealing with picky eaters? Offer your own advice in the comments below or tweet @OKMagazine.