My parents came into town this week. During dinner, my 2.5 year old daughter didn't eat as well as she normally does. I attributed this lack of appetite to the distraction of new people at our table.
After they left, an epiphany came to me. There are some "tricks" I have for getting her to eat real food.
1. If I only serve real food, she will only eat real food.
No duh, huh?
When my parents were here I served saltine crackers with our chili. For the chili I'd soaked the beans, cooked them in broth, used organic onions and tomatoes with grass-fed beef. What did my child want to eat? Crackers. She didn't want to touch the chili. The next day, she ate a huge bowl of chili when I didn't offer crackers.
I can't really blame her. She hasn't learned the fine art of self-control. After all, what's not to love about the salty, crispy crunch of crackers?
Truth be told, this is one reason I do not buy potato chips often. If they are in my pantry I want to eat the whole bag in one sitting. I haven't learned the fine art of self-control.
2. Offer real food when you know she is hungry.
Usually when she wakes from an afternoon nap I offer a snack. This has a two-fold purpose. The snack helps ward off the before-dinner-crankies while helping her to re-enter life, post-nap. If I were to offer chips or pretzels, I'm sure she could eat her weight in them then snub her nose at a nutritious dinner.
One day recently, I decided to re-heat leftovers to serve as the 4pm snack. She ate an adult dinner portion! Of course when dinner rolled around she only picked at her plate. I didn't mind, because I knew her belly was already full with real food. If I'd given her a cookie after nap, I would have been mad (at myself and her!) for not eating dinner.
Also because my children tend to eat light dinners (i.e. their taste buds don't yet appreciate the real food I offer) they are usually starving for breakfast. In our home, I make it my aim to make a nutrient dense breakfast in the form of local pastured eggs, nitrate free bacon or sausage, soaked oatmeal, and fresh- from-the-cow raw milk. Recipes we like: oatmeal bake, soaked muffins, granola with full fat yogurt.
3. Save milk for after dinner.
Children (maybe it's just my children) are notorious for filling up on milk then not being hungry for dinner. At our house, we usually drink water with dinner or maybe a very small cup of milk or kombucha (unless it has been a particularly hot day and we are dehydrated). I am happy to serve more milk after the plates are clean. Milk is a good mid-afternoon snack, as well.
4. Bribe them with dessert.
Dessert is not a frequent offering on our table. However if I am serving a dish that is less than palatable to tiny mouths, I have been known to say, "If you eat all of your xxxx, you may have a bowl of ice cream." This tactic works better with children who can reason, not necessarily with 2.5 year olds.
Those are four of the tricks up my sleeve.
What else do you recommend?