The rules are that THERE ARE NO RULES.
Jk there kind of are.
First, I'd like to point your attention to the above picture: this is what getting a toddler to eat like a human is like. To the outside eye, it probably looks like I'm super pissed and borderline assaulting my child. Buttttt no, just holding her arm while patiently explaining that if we thrash around (one of my favorite phrases), we will very like fall off the bench and hurt ourselves and cry.
To Beck, eating is the same: to her eye, it probably seems like I'm mean or mad all the time, offering her THINGS THAT SHE DOES NOT LIKE. To me, it's how children end up knowing what foods taste like and not becoming jerks. We are pretty strict about food, within reason, and I do believe that she'll be better for it, even though lots of days it feels like a massive struggle.
Currently, the feeding of the toddler goes like this: I offer her two things that I want her to eat, she picks one. I always start with stuff she likes the least but that pack good nutritional punch. When she eats all of that one thing, I offer her two more things until she seems full (or tells me she is full), ending with fruit.
If at any point she starts to throw food, I give her ONE chance to correct the behavior and then get her out of her high chair until the next time I'm ready to feed her. This is not to be mean or to starve her, this is because, at very nearly two, Beck knows not to throw food and does it 100% out of spite, and NEVER when she is hungry. Of the foods that aren't her favorites I give her the teensiest portions, and we are working on "if you finish this one bite you can have xx that you love." She is starting to understand that.
I don't think any of the above are unreasonable, and they certainly aren't mean. I believe that introducing children to a wide variety of foods at an early age AND having appropriate expectations for how they behave at the table is wildly important for things from being able to enjoy restaurants as a family to Beck knowing how to be an adult at a business meeting. It's easier to do it now rather than later when bad behaviors are cemented. Of course, these are theories and ideas and the execution is FAR from perfect (see me in a restaurant a few weeks ago bribing Beck with literally any food she wanted just so she wouldn't SCREAM for no reason), but I do think that having some kind of intention makes sense.
You can read more about our feeding ideas here!
But, one thing we get asked a lot is what, specifically Beck eats. We are at a time where she still has some of her own foods, and eats some things that we are eating. We don't eat meals at the same time, so if we have something for dinner that I think she will like I save her some for the next day. I also try to make her things that are similar to what we are eating: for example, when we had that low carb chicken parm last week, I kept out some of the chicken mixture before broiling it with extra cheese and she LOVED it. She's still not big on foods mixing, which is normal for her age, but this meant that I got a bit of protein stored for her without making anything separate.
Things Beck Currently Eats (a list that changes daily):
- Oatmeal: this is one of my strangest ones, I make quick-cooking oatmeal at NIGHT so that it is fully congealed and cold by the morning. Beck can eat it with a fork instead of a spoon, which means more of it gets into her mouth. We use quick-cooking oats and make two servings at a time (the measurements are 1 cup of oats to 1 ¾ cup of water or something), and I add in ¼ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon cinnamon. No sugar. Beck LOVES it and asks for it daily. One "recipe" like this lasts us 4 or more days, depending on how hungry Beck is, and we've never had any problem with it going bad.
- Avocado: I buy unripe avocados and wait for them to ripen on their own. I cube it for Beck and serve it with the teensiest sprinkle of salt and a few drops of lemon juice. She loves it, I think it makes her feel fancy. PS if you end up with a few avocados ripe at the same time they'll stay perfect in the fridge once they're ripe!
- Babybel Cheese: I buy the low-fat kind because it doesn't seem to have any added sugars.
- Peas + Corn: I keep frozen organic versions around. Beck likes corn more than peas but will eat both. I boil maybe half a cup of each (separately) at a time and always have them in the fridge for her.
- Tuna Salad: One can of tuna, drained, 2 tablespoons mayo, 2 tablespoons sour cream, ¼ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon EACH onion powder and garlic powder, ½ teaspoon dill. Stir, taste, eat! Delicious, cheap, healthy.
- Scrambled eggs or hard-boiled eggs: Both great to make in advance and keep in the fridge.
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes: Peeled, cubed, roasted drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with chili powder and salt at 375F for 40 minutes or so until they're nice and soft.
- Any raw fruit including apples and peanut butter - mandarin oranges are particularly delicious and portable this time of year.
- Hummus with exactly one carrot that she dips over and over which is revolting but gets some protein in her body.
- Black or white canned beans: Drained and rinsed, straight from the can. Sometimes I toss them with some vinaigrette or lemon juice and olive oil, but she's totally fine with them plain.
- This cauliflower soup (I think she really wanted to eat it because I was photographing it while she was having lunch).
- Pasta with marinara: sometimes I make my own, sometimes I open a can of straight tomato sauce and drizzle a little bit of it over pasta. Similarly, leftover plain pasta has never been turned down.
- Halved cherry tomatoes.
- Organic plain applesauce (no sugar added)
- Bread: plain, soft, sliced bread. Some kids HATE this, but not our little carb-eater.
- Ground Beef: I saute maybe ⅓ pound in a skillet with a few sprinkles of salt and Worcestershire sauce with some olive oil, then keep it in the fridge for a part of quick meals.
So, these are our current favorites; things that appear week in and week out. I make or buy almost all of these in advance so that when it is time for a meal there is enough in the fridge to offer something of a complete meal without a lot of hassle. I make two or three items at a time and rotate what we have - if there is more than that available we usually let something go bad, which I can't stand.
Restaurants are a little more lax, I always carry with me healthy foods that Beck can eat while we wait for our order, then she is given free range to try whatever we eat and fill up on rice or French fries, etc. She can't really finish a kid's meal yet, and this ensures that she gets something of nutritional value at restaurants while also getting to enjoy treats.
We don't use a ton of products, but Beck has a few different utensil sets and these green forks and pink spoons are by far her favorites. I have one of these silicone mats that we rarely use as it seems to scare Beck (?), but she loves these suction cup bowls and has a different demand for what color she needs each morning, although sometimes she eats straight from her high chair tray and that works perfectly. I have this super cheap mat that I use in restaurants, and it is GREAT because she's still pretty messy, but I can't find a link to show you. It's kind of sticky on one side and large enough to cover enough space for her food and cup and fork.
Beck only drinks milk and water. Milk still comes out of her baby bottles in four ounce portions that I just swapped the nipples for spouts, and we have a Camel Bak water bottle, these cups for water, and THESE cups for water which is by far her favorite way to consume liquid. Her little friend Landon had the 360 cups first, so she refers to ours as "Landon's cups."
So that's it! One thing we've done is talk a ton about where food comes from, who cooks it, and include her in small ways in grocery shopping so she feels a little bit empowered when making her food choices - slowly but surely she'll learn that food comes from places, different foods have different purposes, etc.
I'd LOVE other ideas for foods your toddlers will actually eat! We are slowly moving toward "this is what we are having" for xx meal, but right now we aren't quiiiite ready to give up some of Beck's regular foods. We also adhere VERY strongly to the belief that even if we only offered raw spinach for meals (we don't) Beck wouldn't starve, so that makes me feel better for the moments when we do start being more strict with fewer options.
Happy feeding! Here is a cuter picture of Beck in case the first one stressed you out.