Distraction Makes The Food Go Down

Another informative post from Emily for all you parents with toddlers. If you missed her last one, read it here.
When I taught 4-year-old dance, I learned to distract the little dancers with games so they wouldn’t know they were stretching. Children don’t like to be uncomfortable; anything that hurts is bad. I sang songs and recited nursery rhymes to take their minds off the pain, but they still got the benefit of the stretches.

It’s the same with food; I have to distract my younger children so they will eat foods that aren’t their favorite. Here are some ideas and games to distract even the most determined toddler:

  1. Airplane, with a morbid twist. Yes, an airplane spoon flies into their waiting mouth, but this time, there’s somebody on it. “Here comes daddy on an airplane. Here he comes! Oh, no, don’t eat Daddy! Ahhh, you ate daddy! Oh no, please don’t chew him. Oh dear! She swallowed Daddy!” We have eaten most of our extended family this way, along with our favorite cartoon characters.
  2. Tell a story. Any story will work, but a repetitive one like “The Three Little Pigs” is good. Everytime you say a certain word (like “Pig”) they should take a bite of their food. (You can take a bite, too, but don’t go on with the story until they take their bite.) Use crazy sound effects, silly voices, things that will make them REALLY want to hear the whole story. Dads make excellent wolves, by the way. (They really know how to “huff and puff”)
  3. Follow the leader. Take turns being the leader. The leader will choose the food to eat next. “And now everyone take 1 bite of lettuce.” And it goes around the table, 1 bite of corn, 3 bites of carrot, and pretty soon, dinner’s done!
  4. Mystery foods. Our most successful game has been to have our children cover their eyes, and we feed them a bite so they can guess what it is. Combo bites work really well for this, so we can sneak in the green bits they normally wouldn’t eat.
  5. Role play. “How would a rabbit eat that cucumber?” “Pretend you are a mouse while you eat your pasta.” You’ll love what they come up with. (My 5-year-old does a fabulous groundhog impression.) Other great animals to copy: chickens, dogs, bears, snakes, cats, birds, worms… or try family members. “How does Grandpa eat a tomato?”
  6. Give praise. We reward good eaters with praise. My 1-year-old son still claps for himself after every bite he takes, crazy kid. A bite of spinach, a shred of carrot, the crowd goes wild.

This is a lot of effort to put into dinner at the end of the day, but it is only for a season. As children grow, mealtimes will be filled with pleasant conversations instead of clapping and clucking. But in these toddler years, distraction really is the best medicine.

written by
Emily Gurney

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KimB says:

I got my toddler to try brocolli by telling him they were trees and he was a giant. When he would eat one, we would then tell him what animal was hiding the tree (bird, squirrel, raccoon, etc.) and that they were chasing each other in his tummy then we would tickle his tummy. He laughed and laughed. Then he realized he liked broccoli and now eats it without it being a game. Although, occassionally there’s still a squirrel hiding in there . ..

Thanks for the great tips, give me the ideas how to give healthy foods to the kid

Sarah Jane says:

Oops, I think I meant this comment for another blog of yours. Well, it still sorta makes sense, haha.

Sarah Jane says:

Great ideas. Toddlers don’t really know what they don’t like. They just know they like crackers and bananas. What great ways to introduce other foods to them.

Thanks for these tips! Our 20 month old little man is such a picky eater, and we want to make sure he is getting what he needs to be a healthy little baby.

Liz Weiss says:

We often talk about distractions that prevent kids from focusing on their food (i.e. someone mowing their lawn outside, getting up and down to play w/ the radio, etc). I like your fun and clever distractions — I can see how they could help kids to actually think more about what they’re eating. Your tips are kind of like distractions from the distractions!

Comment on game #1. Why is it the daddy is always expendable? Oh well.

Amy says:

Good question Lindsay. I think the point here is more than eating for the purpose of filling up. When kids are small, its vital to introduce them to a variety of healthy tastes and flavors. Some kids are only hungry for specific foods. My kids will tell me, “i’m too full for dinner, but I’m hungry for some graham crackers.” As you play these games they will be exposed to foods they may normally turn down.

Lindsay says:

I have a toddler, so I am intrigued by these ideas. But, I have to wonder if it is okay to play games with food. Are we setting our kids up for later problems by not sticking with the mantra that they’ll eat when they’re hungry?

angee says:

Okay, Emily! You are WAY TOO CUTE!! My gosh! Such fun ideas!! I want to sit at your table! We don’t have too many food battles here, but I’m filing these away for the day when we do! Thanx so much!

cathy says:

Oh, I am LOVING these games! I think that these would work on my 5 yr old, even – at least for foods that he kind of likes. Thank you for this!

Terra Jones says:

thank you for this!!! my 20 month old has just started being picky & I want to rip my hair out!!!

eliece says:

oh, this makes me glad I don’t have toddlers anymore! That sounds like so much work!

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