Preschooler Food Power Struggles

My daughter is 3 years, 3 months and hell bent on being her own person. And while I rationally know that one of the main goals of parenthood is to raise a person who can be independent, it’s really freaking hard to live with said person. Especially when they are for all intents and purposes still completely reliant on you!

Eliza was a champion eater at first. She loved broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, snap peas, oranges, beans, chicken, eggs and beef. She pretty much ate what I gave her without complaint. As she has gone out more and more in the world, she has discovered Cheerios, bagels and macaroni &┬ácheese. At first, I didn’t really mind because I’d throw peas and greens into the pasta, top it with more butter and she’d eat it all. Now, though, she refuses the veggies. In fact, she insists that they be removed from the bowl. There have been days where she has eaten a bagel for breakfast, mac & cheese for lunch and pizza for dinner. I’m shuddering just thinking about it, but there it is. And I let it happen. I’m admitting this now because I do think that she’ll come back to the green side eventually.

Why on earth do I think this? Why would anyone choose zucchini noodles when there is boxed mac& cheese in the world? Here you go:

1) I suspect this is more about power than actual food preferences. If I make mac & cheese a power struggle, no one wins. She’ll refuse to eat anything, she’ll be hungry and miserable and I won’t have succeeded in getting the veggies in her anyway. Lose-lose. But if I keep offering it with the peas and broccoli like always and don’t comment on what she eats or not, she’ll eventually try the green stuff again and discover it’s delicious. (Fingers crossed!)

2) We talk a lot at home about having strong healthy bodies and feeling good. We had the incredible fortune of a perfect Halloween last year: Eliza was allowed unfiltered access to candy for a day and she threw up!! She now associates candy with being sick and even points out M&M’s at the store as being bad for her tummy. All I have to do is insert “and what makes your tummy happy?” and she’ll list all sorts of foods of different colors and textures. So even if she ate a bagel for breakfast, she’s talking about eggs. She already has some semblance of equating food with how she feels

3) We have rules. Saturday is bagel day with Daddy and she isn’t allowed bagels at any other time (obviously sometimes special occasions happen, but in general, bagels aren’t an option). Fruit and veggies are offered at every snack and most meals. She doesn’t have to eat them, but they are readily available. Dessert happens on regular occasions, but there are clear limits (ONE!) and they are non-negotiable

4) She gets choices. Spinach tortellini or peas & mac & cheese? Red bell pepper or orange? Sweet potato or regular potato? Blueberries or strawberries? Both? OK! Now, of course sometimes she simply refuses everything offered to her, but for the most part, this trick still works.

5) I keep offering and I keep adding variety. Last week when she basically refused ALL her veggies, I happened to be on a smoothie kick. I offered her some of my bright green smoothie and was surprised when she accepted. But she LOVED it and ended up drinking almost half of it. It was chock full of spinach and kale, plus some fresh mint leaves and hemp milk. She when the rest of the day ended up being Z bars and buttered noodles, I still felt like it was okay.

I’m sure this will only get more complicated as time goes on. But I”ll keep you posted on how I’m navigating it and hope it helps some of your challenges!

This entry was posted in Diet, Parenting. Bookmark the permalink.