Trystan and Zoey, eating, kids, food

Teaching kids to eat their food

Each child is different, and with that said, these techniques may not work on your baby or toddler but they’ll at least give you something to try.

As a baby, Trystan was not a very picky eater.   Once he was able to feed himself, he did go through phases when he would not eat what was on his plate.  Initially I would sit there with him and pull out every trick in the book to try to get him to open his mouth and at least taste the food.  After all, a child develops a taste for new food after five to ten times of tasting that new food.  So how did we get Trystan and Zoey to even open their mouths to give them the opportunity to taste new foods?  As a baby there was only one option that worked for Trystan: leave him in the high chair and continue about your business.  He usually finishes the food in front of him before we get back to him.  This didn’t work for Zoey as she would just dump the food over the side of her high chair.  So in her high chair days, I would wait a little later after Trystan had started eating to feed Zoey.  This did two things 1. She was hungrier when she started eating, and 2. She watched Trystan eat and enjoy his food.  Generally, I would have two options for meals anyways and would just let her eat the one she was more inclined to. Serve the new salad, but have the carrots, peas and corn on backup.

When Trystan turned 3, getting him to eat new foods became even trickier since his brain is developing and he starts using his negotiation skills to convince us that he is not hungry or he wants a more snack-y food, until of course dessert comes.  Then when the sweets come out, the bottom drops out of his belly and he can eat boatloads.  This phase didn’t last too long, especially after we started applying the techniques below.

One note to take into account.  These techniques work best when you eliminate or minimize snacking in between meals, and if meals are well scheduled so their bodies are used to eating at roughly the same time everyday. If you are having a busy day, then bring just enough snacks to whet the appetite, not satisfy it.  Yes, you may get a whiny baby for a few minutes but if it takes you longer than an hour to get them food, then the error was in scheduling the activity/meal not in packing the snack.  If you are busy all the time, then schedule the child’s meal as an appointment and put as much importance on it as a class or work meeting.


Tips and Techniques

1a.  Involvement in food selection.  This pertains more to fruits and vegetables.  It works with everything else but if you’re on a budget, then make sure you can control which brand of jam, or juice you get and limit the options to what flavors they can choose. When at the grocery store, I just talk out loud to Trystan about the fruit/vegetable selection process.  Then letting them take it from the display to the shopping cart adds to the involvement.  Zoey and Trystan have both operated the “shopper in training carts” at Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s and now I just tell them what to get and let them put it in the cart.  I have Trystan and Zoey help me with the herb garden, by plucking or clipping leaves off the basil and spinach.

– How do you pick a good banana?  Golden brown with speckled hue, but let’s get some greener ones for later too.


1b.  Involvement in food preparation.  The cooking videos are just one of the benefits of preparing food with the kids.  I remember the first time Trystan made scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.  He was two years old and I taught him how to crack the eggs, scramble them with a whisk and then place the bread in the toaster.  He was so excited that he ran over to the bedroom to pull Shelly out of bed so that she could eat the breakfast that he made.

toddler, scrambling, eggs, cooking, kids and food

2.  Name dropping.  Whose name?  Whoever their favorite cartoon character is.  One real reference for celery are the Wonder Pets because they do like celery.  “Trystan, do you know who LOVES lettuce?  Diego does!” Trystan just stares in disbelief.  I continue to tell a fabricated story about Diego and Alicia going shopping, picking out the perfect lettuce, going home and preparing it; of course the exact same way that we prepared it in the salad or sandwich.  Minutes later, he is munching down his meal “Look daddy!!! I’m eating lettuce like Diego!!!”


3. Tell us 4 things about the food a.k.a. Why don’t you like it?  This method requires that the child is at least 3 or 4 years old, or old enough to negotiate and apply logic.
“Trystan, you don’t have to eat that bell pepper but you have to tell us whether it is:
– crunchy or chewy
– sweet or salty
– hot, cold or warm
– dry or juicy

We’d ask each comparison after each bite, which would make him take 4 bites before we give him something else.  Sometimes he even ends up liking the food that he initially didn’t want to try because of the way it looked.  Which brings me to the next method…


4. Presentation.  Don’t just lump the food on the plate. Arrange it in a way that is appealing to little kids.  Look up Breakfasts with Trystan and Zoey for some examples.  Most of them are simple arrangements that I came up with as I was making the food.  The ingredients are already decided, it was was just a matter of how they looked like on the plate.



5.  Bribery/Negotiation – I try to do this least of all.  We don’t have to do it with Trystan as much but Zoey, who hasn’t developed her speech to the point of expression still tries to play dumb or just refuses to eat until we give in.  She isn’t sitting in a high chair anymore so leaving her with her food doesn’t work because she just walks away.  It usually becomes a problem if Trystan finishes eating first and gets dessert, or if mommy or daddy have a brain fart and grab a popsicle out of the freezer before she is done with her food.  That is when we apply the bribery technique and it goes like this:

“First you eat this (show the food you want them to eat), then you get this (show the sweets)” You can even pretend to eat each as you tell them this.  Placement matters, put the sweets directly behind the food so that visually there is a logical sequence.  The food is blocking me from my sweets!!!!  In the case of Trystan finishing first and getting dessert, we show her Trystan’s empty plate and hold it next to Trystan eating his sweets.  Then present her not so empty plate in the fashion described above.


Well, I hope that was helpful to you.  If you have other techniques that have worked for you please feel free to write them in the comments below.  I know that we only have two children and these techniques may work for them but not for my other friends and followers of this blog.  Thanks for reading.


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