When Pixie started eating solids, I pored over cookbooks geared toward toddler meals. I was so excited to finally be able to try all those adorable food presentations: smiley face pancakes, miniature pot pies made to look like cupcakes or flowers, and sandwiches embellished to look like anything under the sun.
If you’re a parent, I’ll bet you can already see where this is going. Yep, my Pixie-toddler was completely unimpressed with these efforts, and even seemed a bit off-put by the more elaborate offerings. Now that she’s 3.5 years old, she’s a little more excited about “cute” or themed presentations, but I’ve had much more success with a more organic (no pun intended) approach.
For example, I’ve wanted Pixie to eat avocado since she first started solids. So naturally, in line with the Child’s Law of Food Preferences, she thought this amazingly high calorie, high nutrient, easy to prepare food was completely unworthy of her attention. I kept offering, and while she’d eat a slice here and there, she never got excited about it….until the day I asked if she wanted to eat the avocado “in his shell” (yes, “his” not “its”–we anthropomorphize our food quite regularly over here). Her eyes lit up, and she had a conversation with the avocado while I diced up half of the flesh and piled it back into its peel, then sprinkled it with a tiny bit of salt and pepper.
“Avocado? Can you I eat you IN YOUR SHELL???” Pixie asked gleefully.
“In MY SHELL?!? What?!?” the avocado exclaimed, before grudgingly agreeing to being eaten.
We go through this little routine every time I prepare an avocado, and Pixie eats at least 1/2 to 1 whole avocado nearly every week. SCORE!
Max and Ruby are notorious for not wanting to eat vegetables or meat. Their mom has had huge success in offering–get this–rack of lamb! She slices off the tiny chops and puts one chop at a time on each plate. The twins think that eating meat off these small bones is the coolest thing ever. No special prep, other than slicing the meat into individual chops, required.
Pixie went through a phase, around age 2.5 years, where she thought that eating an entire chicken leg off the bone was the only way to eat poultry.
Fish & Seafood
My husband’s family frequently serves whole fish, either baked or fried. It still has the skin and head intact and is extremely recognizable as a fish. Getting to taste as fish served this way is what turned Pixie on to fish and seafood in general, probably because the fish was so moist and flavorful. It still remains her favorite way to eat fish (we let her watch while we pull off pieces for her to eat, making sure there aren’t any tiny bones lurking in the pieces).
Max and Ruby refused to eat the breading on their fish sticks, prompting their mom to offer them baked, breading-free cod filets with some mild seasonings–they loved it!
Pixie refuses calamari but loves whole, barbecued octopus. She hates breaded shrimp or shrimp in any sort of sauce, but will eat 4 or 5 large, plain, defrosted shrimp at one meal.
See a pattern? Sometimes, the more recognizable a food’s presentation is, the more our kids enjoy it.
Eggs, Soft Boiled, Hard Boiled, & Burrito-ed
We thought Max and Ruby hated eggs, until they devoured simple breakfast burritos made with scrambled eggs, shredded cheddar cheese, and bacon slices rolled into a small tortilla.
They also love eating soft-boiled eggs because they’re so charmed by the egg cup and tiny spoon they get to use while eating them. Their mom amps up the calories by offering thin strips of toast to dip in the egg yolk. (Note: make sure you trust your egg supplier when soft boiling eggs).
Pixie eats hardboiled egg if it’s presented whole, in an egg cup, but not when conveniently pre-sliced and presented to her on a plate. ::shrug::
Corn on the Cob
Another absurdly simple serving idea: the twins and Pixie all love to eat corn off the cob. We slice the corn cobs into halves or thirds so that they’re manageable, and the kids think that biting the corn off the cob is incredibly fun. They’ll eat so much more corn when it’s served in a less accessible form than when we serve the kernels spooned into a bowl. Go figure.
Whole Baby Tomatoes
Pixie thinks that eating cherry or grape tomatoes whole is fun enough to eat 3-6 at a time. She has no interest in sliced tomatoes.
Pixie and the twins devour edamame out of the shell but pick at it if it’s pre-shelled.
Peas in a Pod
Literally. My mom grows sugar snap peas in her garden, and Pixie loves pulling the peas out of the pods, eating them, and then devouring the crunchy pod. She does the same thing when I serve green beans. Since the net result is that it all gets eaten, I’m OK with the messy process!
Grapes of All Sizes and on the Stem
Same story: the kids love eating grapes when they have to pull them off the stem. The nice thing is that they’ve since gotten hooked on grapes and will eat them on or off the stem. When the twins were going through a particularly picky phase, we offered them tiny, champagne grapes to pull off the stem, which they found utterly irresistible.
I thought that Pixie hated citrus until Max and Ruby’s mom offered her an unpeeled, tiny, Clementine/mandarin orange. She started the peeling process by opening a small hole in the peel for Pixie, and let Pixie pull the rest of the peel off by herself. I figured that this would be the end, but lo and behold, suddenly the orange was incredibly appetizing, and Pixie has been peeling and eating Clementines ever since!
A friend of mind handed Pixie an entire apple when Pixie was only 20 months old. I expected disaster, given that Pixie had never wanted apple slices, but Pixie chomped into it and ate 1/3 of the entire apple by herself! Later, we went through a “baby apple” phase, where Pixie enjoyed eating some smaller, baby Galas, whole. Now, I find that she loves apple slices that have been freshly peeled, something that is extremely easy to do with a serrated vegetable peeler (hat tip to Smitten Kitchen for turning me on to this awesome kitchen utensil).
Try getting those tiny, “baby” bananas and serving them in their peel. This is the only way that Pixie will eat bananas, on the few occasions when she eats them.
Even the most health conscious of us have been subtly conditioned to think that kids will find processed or preciously presented foods more interesting. And while I’m all for creative, adorable presentations (Bento Box Lunches, anyone?), sometimes the most ordinary, honest, and, yes, harder-to-eat food formats are the most appealing to our little ones.
What surprising food formats have resonated with your little one? Share in the comments!
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