Feeding a toddler is about as tricky and manipulative a process as finding a way to get out of the sex you promised your husband the night before when you told him you were too tired and you would do it "tomorrow night, I promise"...
Jane is a pretty good eater. I'll tell you what changed this immensely, getting rid of bottles. From, say, 18 months on (I can't remember exactly), she had been having an 8oz bottle of milk before breakfast and before bed. Thus, she wouldn't eat much before daycare in the morning and she wouldn't eat much supper because she knew, within the hour, she was gonna have a nice full belly of milk before bed. When we got rid of the bottles, here came this little appetite.
Now she eats a great breakfast - usually some whole grain toast with peanut butter, and either an apple or banana or, sometimes, both. She loves fruit. Not a veggie fan, but fruit wins every time and I'm ok with that. I wasn't/am not a huge veggie fan but I have always been a fruit addict - like I used to get in trouble for eating all the strawberries and apples before anyone else got any when I was a teenager. Not the worst issue for parents to have - way to go mom and dad! Why didn't you just buy more fruit?!?! :p
We are lucky, lucky as, being that Jane is at daycare, we don't have to worry about how she's eating throughout the day. They do snack at 9am, lunch at noon and another snack at 4pm. And, they are strictly regulated here in NS so they basically aren't allowed to have any fun foods at all - all healthy stuff, which is great, because you know she's had some nutrition throughout the day. What cracks me up about daycare is the stuff they feed them, and the stuff the kids'll eat!
I check the menu and they're having chowder and fish and casseroles and all this stuff I've never thought to make and then I see that Jane's had second servings of this stuff! I think lunches are the hardest things to plan because, on the weekends, we usually just play it by ear which means I plan nothing. Thankfully, we usually have a handy stock of that veggie KD on hand, that I mix tofu into for some form of nutrients and Jane loves this. She also, believe it or not, loves wonton soup (?). If all else fails, a trusty platter of crackers, cheese, fruit and whatever else I have in the fridge goes a long way.
Dinner can sometimes be a challenge. Like most toddlers, I would assume, Jane is not a big fan of new things. Actually, that's a bit inaccurate. It varies daily. Some days, you can plunk the strangest meal in front of her and gawk in awe and she shovels it down and asks for more. Other days, you just see her stare and know immediately you've been rejected.
Months ago, I would make her something else if she rejected any meal. That ended quickly. Now, we implement the two bite rule. She has to have at least two bites. And we use bribery 100%. Judge all you want but if Jane eats her supper, she gets a few treats after wards - usually 2-3 fruit snacks. So, we bribe her. If she wants her treats she has to eat her supper. I'm sure this goes against everything an expert would say about establishing a healthy relationship with food but, fact is, I have dessert after every dinner - a piece of chocolate, a small frozen yougurt, and I've never been obese. Plus, these experts would probably chime in and criticize me and then go home and bribe their kids the same way. Bribery is survival. It's like the overweight doctor telling you you need to lose a few pounds...
Like my bedtime routine, we have morning routines and dinner routines as well that I think contribute to our success in the eating department. These routines were not enforced or implemented purposefully, but fact is, most of us unknowingly have a routine. Kids thrive on routine. "Out of the ordinary" means stress for kids. Consistency with everything related to kids - eating, discipline, sleep, everything = peace = happiness = stress free kids = success (in my opinion). Of course, everyone needs a little spontaneity - some Saturday mornings, Jane and I will sneak out into the car in our pajamas while Dan is still sleeping and hit up Tim Hortons to share a bagel (and coffee for mom) - we call them pajama drives. We drive to see the horsies down the street, the ocean, etc. The people at Hatfield Farms have seen our car and our pajamas on many a morning. But most mornings/dinners are routine.
For example, Jane still eats in her high chair. Every night. I'm not saying your kids should. But, for us, we've found that basically locking her in is the only way to ensure she'll stay focused on eating and eat until she's full - it gives us the control over her to ensure we're not chasing her around the house while she tries to avoid having a few bites of something new, or having those last two bites that we always ask for. It gives us the control and her the focus. We've tried letting her sit at the table but we end up having to ask her to eat, having to bring her back to the table 100 times, etc. So, every night, she gets up in her "big girl chair" and that's that. She stays there until she eats her dinner and even stays there for her treats.
When all else fails and she has her obligatory "two bites" of something but still doesn't like it. She comes out of the chair, after Dan and I are finished eating our supper. I will not give her something else right away. I don't want to teach her that she can choose what she eats for dinner because I fear this will result in me making a million meals each night, playing a guessing game at what she wants - giving her the control, not a good idea - she's nearly three, she'd choose candy every time :p. As far as she knows, dinner is over and she didn't eat it. In my house, THIS is supper and that's that. If you don't like it, you starve. No, not really. Duh. But usually, we'll wait another half hour and then I'll give her something else - toast, cheese, fruit, etc. Something to fill her belly before bed.
As a back up, about six months ago, we started giving Jane vitamins. Do I believe in vitamins, not really. I'm pretty sure you pee most of them out. But it's more like vitamins for my mommy guilt. It gives me peace of mind that on the days those rare days that Jane lives off bread and macaroni she may be getting something she's missing from them.
My most important goals when getting Jane to eat is to (1) make sure she has some protein (2) make sure she has some vegetable or fruit (i'm not choosy) (3) make sure she eats enough that she's not going to get hungry at school or before bed and (4) try new things with her. The easiest thing to do as a mom is stick to the same things over and over for dinners every week and never give her anything new because, usually, new things get rejected. But, at least once a week, I try to make something new and you'd be surprised at the successes - she loves slow cooker BBQ ribs, like LOVES - won't eat anything on her plate and wants seconds. She LOVES salmon and risotto, she loves rigatoni with asiago cheese and vodka rose sauce (WTF?).
I just realized as I was typing those things that I do this without thinking... if I try something new, I always introduce it with a side dish or a protein that I know she likes. That way she's being introduced to something new with something old so it's not BAM in her face nothing she recognizes. Plus, this ensures that she'll at least get something in her belly.
You know I don't like to be advice-y. My motto is always - do what works for you and ignore anyone who tells you that's wrong. But, sometimes I like to share what works for me in case there's anything there that will help you and, in hopes, that you'll share some things back that maybe I can work in too!
So, people, SHARE! Share recipes, anything! Anybody got any good recipe sites or recipes that your babes love that you can send me the link to?? Do it up!