So toddlers huh? Apparently, you have to FEED them. It’s so easy when they’re babies. Bottle or boob. And then a few spoonfuls of mushy sweet potatoes or peas for a few months.
But then they get older and suddenly you’re expected to spend 50% of your day as a personal line cook to a miniature dictator.
And it sucks. Ryland is 2, and despite the fact that she has been on the food train for more than a year, we are in Strugsville, population 1.5 (I’m only counting her as half a person, because well, she poops her pants).
I still have no idea what I’m doing. There is no game plan. No strategy. We’re just trying to make sure everyone survives and doesn’t get scurvy or rickets, and maybe eats a vegetable occasionally if we’re really aiming for the stars.
But, I have learned some things NOT to do, and I thought I would share some of my hard earned wisdom for anyone just starting this phase.
BTW, if you have a 1-year-old who eats EVERYTHING and you feel all smug and superior, just wait. Ryland used to be that way. She ate veggie burgers every night for dinner, and broccoli, and zucchini, ALL OF THE VEGETABLES. Now, if I gave her a veggie burger or broccoli she would try to murder me with it in my sleep. Now, if you have a 2-year-old who eats EVERYTHING and prefers kale over goldfish and cries at the sight of a processed food, well then, go ahead and feel smug and superior. Also please don’t tell other parents this information unless you want them to secretly hate you. And also your child may be the anti-Christ.
Regardless, here are some of the things I’ve learned:
This one is such a trap, one I’ve fallen for many times. It is SO tempting to go nuts with the “kid” food at Whole Foods, and about once every 6 weeks I’ll get really motived and go on a real spree. I’ll get Ryland all kinds of $10 veggie nuggets or $15 artisanal sweet potato fries infused with kale juice. I’ll buy those wonderful earthy snack foods with pictures of endangered animals all over the boxes, the faux Cheez It’s that taste like cardboard, the faux graham crackers that taste like styrofoam, the breakfast cereals made with hemp and wood chips. I’ll get it ALL, convinced it’s the start of our new, all-natural, all-organic, morally virtuous lifestyle.
I’ll stock our pantry with enough non-GMO snacks to feed a small army of super health-obsessed toddlers. Our freezer will look like Goop exploded all over it.
And Ryland will not eat a single. friggin. bite. Of any of it.
Every. single. time. $75 in hypoallergenic bunny crackers down the tubes.
It is pretty much a rule of the universe that the precise second you buy anything in bulk for your kid they will decide they DETEST it. I don’t care if they’ve eaten it daily for the last six months. The moment you lug that ginormous container of mandarin oranges into your kitchen, or stuff a 30 lb box of frozen veggie wontons into your freezer, your child will develop an intense and lasting aversion to those foods
When it comes to food, toddlers are jerks. They don’t care how long you worked shaping their pancakes into a mickey mouse face. They don’t care that you prepared a separate “non-spicy” version of your dinner just for them. They don’t care that you sliced your finger open carefully chopping their grapes. They will burn your house to the ground before they will eat anything that they do not want to eat at that exact moment, regardless of the work or time or love you put into it. Don’t take it personally. Just cry softly into your wine while they stare at you straight in the eyes and drop an entire mini pizza on the ground.
Also, their tastes and whims are just totally unpredictable and insane. Ryland has been OBSESSED with pouches and yogurts for months, for over a year even. Like wanted them all day every day. And about a week ago, she decided that yogurt and pouches = blech (literally, that’s the noise she makes when I offer one). Obviously, this happened right at the time when we have about 4 boxes of kid’s yogurt in our fridge (and that stuff costs about $5 a box, so, yeah, that’s fun).
There’s just no predictability or routine when it comes to the diet patterns of tiny children. Because they’re jerks.
Another one I fall for over and over and over again. DO NOT ORDER YOUR TODDLER ANYTHING OFF THE KIDS MENU. It is a colossal waste of money. Chances are they aren’t going to touch it. Between the stimulation of the restaurant, the distraction of all the people around them, and the temptation of mommy or daddy’s meal much better-looking meal, they are not going to eat that lifeless little PB&J or lukewarm chicken nuggets. If anything, order them some bread. Just a big old bread basket. It’s usually free and much more likely to get eaten. Or just order something for yourself that you can share, because let’s face it, they’re going to help themselves to whatever you’re eating anyway.
I’m a big fan and proponent of a family dinner, and I fully plan on doing this when my children are older. And right now, we do sometimes all eat together, on the rare occasion I have my shit together and everyone’s meal is ready by 5pm (when Ryland eats). But you know what? More often than not these days, the family meal does not happen. Ryland eats crazy early. R isn’t usually home from work until much later. Bobby typically needs a bottle around when Ryland eats. There are a lot of reasons it makes more sense to do dinner in two shifts.
Plus, you know what? This mama likes to eat her meals in peace after the babies have gone to bed. When I eat dinner at the same time as my toddler, I typically don’t even remember what my food tastes like. I am so busy doing something for her or holding the baby or stopping the dog from eating off Ryland’s high chair, that whatever food I do manage to shovel into my mouth is just a blur.
If I wait until she’s asleep, I can sit, turn on some Netflix or have a conversation with my husband, chew, swallow, not have a human karate chopping me from underneath the table. It’s lovely and very adult.
So if you’re in the same situation, do not feel guilty. We have the rest of our lives to do family meals. It’s okay if they don’t start at birth.
This is another one of those weird, arbitrary rules I thought I had to follow before kids, nothing frozen or canned or boxed. Only beautiful, fresh fruits and vegetables, ideally plucked from my own backyard garden if possible, or at the very least delivered via a CSA or picked up at the local Farmer’s Market.
Sorry, excuse me. But no, no. No no no. Not even a little bit, no. I wish that were possible. I would love to only give my kid those kinds of foods. But 1) ain’t no one got the time for that every single night 2) you especially don’t have the time for that if you have more than one kid and kid #2 needs to be held or breastfed during dinner time 3) it is upsetting, frustrating, and DEMORALIZING to cook elaborate meals from fresh ingredients every single night when 75-90% of the time your child is going to react to that food like it’s radioactive. Maybe when she gets older and starts not being a sociopath about food, but right now I would drive myself to a mental breakdown if I cooked her a fresh meal every night and watched those fresh meals routinely fed to the dog. Frozen makes all of our lives easier, and with kids, easy is worth its weight in gold, even if that gold is frozen.
Also, I don’t give her burritos or hot pockets every night. I’m not a monster. But they make healthy frozen food! Just go to Trader Joe’s.
I try to stand my ground on a lot. I don’t want to be a pushover. I know my 2-year-old needs discipline and order and all that good stuff. But sometimes you just have to pick your battles. And that means that some nights she eats PB&Js for dinner. And sometimes for lunch, she has ritz crackers with peanut butter. And sometimes for breakfast, she eats the kid Cliff bars.
I know, I KNOW. I don’t need a lecture. I understand basic nutrition. But my GOD people. When you have a 2-year-old, you cannot wage a war 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. You would go off the deep end. Sometimes you just want it to not be a fight or a struggle and to just let her eat something you know she’ll like. And I’m okay with that.
So this is random, but another Jennifer Garner level realization I had WAY too late. I used to buy a lot of the foods from the kid section of the grocery stores, including a lot of cereal bars and things like that. And then I made a pretty obvious in retrospect, but nonetheless breakthrough realization at the time. Half of that crap is the SAME AS WHAT YOU FIND IN THE ADULT AISLE. Kids’ cereal bars that cost $5/box are literally identical to Nutri Grain bars that cost $2/box on sale. Kid Gerber cheese puffs that cost like $3 for a teeny tiny tin? Basically the same thing as Pirate’s Booty, which you can buy in enormous quantities for the same price.
Oh and the YOGURT. Yes, I get it. It comes in pouch form. I suppose that’s worth a slight mark up. But why does it cost FIVE DOLLARS for 4 “kids” yogurts but the same for like a pack of 10 Chobani’s? What are they putting in it? Are these cows fed a caviar and foie gras only diet or something?
There’s a lot of marketing involved in kid’s food, and it’s easy to fall for it because you are so desperate to buy your child things that are nutritious and “kid-friendly.” But really, it’s kind of a giant scam.
(Also a scam, formula. Ryland did soy formula and there are only a few generic versions, but Bobby eats normal formula and there are a million generics, and you bet your butt we do the generic Kirkland brand. IT’S THE EXACT SAME STUFF. Like the same companies produce it, sometimes in the same factories, just like generic medicines. Also, formula marketed as being for “breastfeeding supplementation” is another big old marketing ploy. It’s the same stuff people. Just with a little meaningless label tacked onto it and the price jacked up.
I used to be able to answer the question “Does so and so like a banana?” I used to have all the answers. But then I had a child, and now when someone asks me that, or if she likes any food, it sends me into a spiral of existential and spiritual questioning, as follows:
Someone: “Does Ryland like bananas?”
Me: (Staring into the middle distance with a haunted look in my eyes.)
“Well, she liked bananas yesterday.
She might like bananas tomorrow, or an hour from now.
But right now, who knows?”
Someone: “Um, is that a yes then?”
Me (still staring into the middle distance): “Can anyone truly like a banana? Or do bananas like us?
What is a banana, really, a construct? An image on a cave wall? A figment of our collective yearning for meaning?
DOES ANYTHING REALLY EXIST?! ARE WE ALL BANANAS!?!?”
Someone: “Okay then. What about blueberries?”
So that’s my wisdom. I’m still failing and making new mistakes every day though, so in a year I’ll probably have a whole new set of lessons learned. Hopefully, then my kid will eat a little more though.