Added to Cart!

Getting Toddler to eat healthy food when mom loves junk food

read •


Dr. Laura,
Was wondering if you could help....My SIL's 2 year old is a carb/milk/fruit addict...This is all he will eat....Most times, he ends up with just having a milk bottle or fruit because he doesn't want the other food that he has been given..He is 25 pounds...a bit low in weight for his age (34? inches tall) ...But doc says he is healthy (he was checked for anemia just in case...doesn't have it)

Any suggestions on how to help him to eat healthier? SIL doesn't want to make food into a bad know?

as an aside: SIL is a carb addict too....lots of junk food...from candy to fast foods daily. Don't know if this plays a part in his diet...Something she won't discuss...Not that I have personally tried...But I have heard her mother and others have.
She did ask me to post for some help though!! So, this is good, right?


Dear Marie,
The good news is that your SIL asked you to post for some help.
The bad news is that kids follow their parents' leads in eating.

But let's assume your SIL is really motivated to get her little one eating healthy. Two year olds need milk, of course, but too much can get in the way of iron absorption, so the usual recommendation is to limit two year olds' milk intake to 16-24 ounces/day. Milk makes a great nutritious snack, and many nutritionists say it's best not to give milk at meals, when it distracts kids from the food at hand.

I'm a psychologist, not a nutritionist, but getting kids to eat healthy is mostly psychology! I always suggest offering kids a bunch of small portions to choose from. They don't eat much, so make the portions small. But a selection of choices makes it more likely that they'll start eating something, and then branch out to other foods on the plate. If you serve them only one or two foods and neither appeals to them today, they're likely to say they aren't hungry and then ask for milk or cookies fifteen minutes later.

Make sure all the foods you offer are healthy and then let the child choose how much of each to eat. Since toddlers won't eat foods that are unfamiliar, you may need to offer a particular choice repeatedly to get him to try it.

An example of a toddler meal could be very small portions of:
Cut up turkey
Frozen peas (don't cook. They like the cold temperature.)
Mashed sweet potato
Cut up whole wheat bread spread with peanut butter (non-hydrogenated)
Black beans with veggies and mild salsa mixed in (unless your kid doesn't like "mixed food, then just salt!)
Scrambled egg

Notice the emphasis is on veggies and protein, which are the hardest things to get kids to eat. Notice the hardest thing to prepare is the scrambled egg; everything else can be prepared very easily in advance and kept in the fridge to be served in small quantities over a few days time. Notice the range of different textures and temperatures. And notice that kids will eat what they're used to, from whole wheat bread to "healthy" peanut butter to beans.

Most kids will find something they like in a presentation like this. Once they do, serve that thing frequently, as part of a mix of other foods, so your child has something on the plate to interest him and is less likely to just reject the meal out of hand. Gradually the list of things he likes will increase.

Should kids eat what parents are eating? At two, that is a tall order. Most kids don't like most healthy adult fare, whether because it's too spicy, or simply because the foods are touching on the plate!

Gradually, of course, kids will begin to eat whatever the family is having for dinner. That's when you start adding sneaky nutrient enhancers. For instance, I grind up a little frozen spinach and add it to my spaghetti sauce. It adds a great meaty taste and of course the nutrition load goes way up. There are a lot of experts out there online who can give you specific recipes, but basically, add vegetables to all your favorite meals: pizza, homemade soup, chicken salad, ground up in hamburger patties, meatballs or meatloaf, even pancake batter and muffins.

Nutritionists say that if you offer children healthy options, they will eat the nutrients they need. It might be all protein today and all sweet potatoes tomorrow, but it will work out to a balanced diet over the course of the week. But that only works if the child does NOT have the option of sweets and junk foods. Those are addictive and throw off the child's natural tendency to seek out the nutrients he needs.

Which brings us to your SIL. Not to be overly dramatic, but a daily diet of junk food leads to heart disease, diabetes, and early death. She may not be able to do this for herself, but she might do it for her son. Whatever he sees her eat, he will want. Whatever he eats as a child will be his comfort food as an adult. Maybe this will give her some incentive to start to gradually change her eating habits.

And how wonderful that she has you looking out for her and her son!
Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura,
Thanks for the advice....I passed it along...As to the last me, I know...You can't talk to her about it though...She denies going to fast food places even though every time she calls me she is going through one. She also says she doesn't keep junk in the house but her cabinet is loaded with hard candy...Denial, denial, denial....I guess once she gets past this, she will deal with her diet. - Marie


Dear Marie,
I sympathize with your SIL. It's so hard for any of us to change our eating habits. The foods we grow up with really do become the foods we want throughout life. That's why it's so important that we give our kids a good start with healthy foods.
Speaking of which, a nutritionist friend of mine called me to make two suggestions:
1. Explain why I do not have fruit on the list.
2. Need more than two vegie options

Fruit is, of course, a good source of vitamin A, C, and fiber, among other nutrients. But what I have heard from many moms is that if fruit is part of a meal, kids won't eat other foods. I personally found that while fruit is a great dessert, it is best to delay the whole idea of dessert. Therefore, fruit makes a great snack, along with milk.

As far as veggies go, the nutritionists say that kids need at least two vegetables with most meals. If you're snickering, remind yourself that kids actually like many veggies once they get used to them. That may mean you have to offer the same vegetable ten times before she even tries it, but just give very small portions and be patient. You should also know that kids are more likely to accept new foods before age 3!

More vegie ideas:
Cut up cucumber wheels
Green beans, steamed
Turnips or parsnips- raw, or mashed with butter and salt (I know, sounds crazy, but my daughter loves them.)
Jersualem artichokes (crunchy)
Carrots - cooked. Be careful of raw carrots until they can chew thoroughly.

I'd love to hear from other moms about what veggies your kids like.

Also, there's a big debate out there about whether to disguise veggies so kids will eat them. Some nutrition experts love the idea. Some say kids need to learn to like the taste of veggies. What do you think?
Dr. Laura

Hmmm, I have a whole foods kid and a veggie addict. One refuses to eat anything cooked. But LOVES tomatoes (is that a fruit or veggie really?) and bell peppers, raw carrots and fresh green beans. Now my other child refuses to eat raw anything so basically meals consist of me preparing veggies for our meal but leaving miss whole foods princess items out.

We also have our own stirfry recipe that works wonders on getting EVERYONE to eat.
I take my meat (tried w/ tofu once and Evan was the only one who ate it lol) with celery and bell peppers and saute them up with olive oil (tried broccoli once but it was yick) basically whatever veggies you think they'll eat. When the meat is cooked through and the veggies are still crunchy add an 8 oz can of pineapple tidbits (sorry I know it's fruit but it's yummy) and soy sauce and splenda to taste (or sugar if you are anti artificial stuff). We serve this over brown rice and it's sweet and tangy and just enough to get everyone to try a veggie or two.

We also have a 3 bite rule. You must take 3 bites of something even if you don't like it (in which case they are microscopic bites lol) and if you don't like it you don't have to eat it. On days when I make soups or casseroles with multiple different veggies in them I tell them to pick out 2 or 3 veggies and eat all of them that they can find. They like the scavenger hunt and keeps the fight away from the dinner table most nights (though there's always that rare occasion when they are itching for a fight lol).

I actually have a friend who's kids refused to eat veggies and when her doctor asked for a food diary he realized that the fruits they were consuming were so varied that they were covering all the vitamin/mineral groups anyway so he told her not to worry about it that they were eating just fine. This would not work with my apples addicts but it may work for a child that adores a variety of fruit.
BF Guru

What Parents are Saying

Book library image

Author of three best-selling books

4785+ Reviews on Amazon

Avg. 4.6 out of 5 stars